Posts Tagged ‘Vigilantes’

The Vigilantes

December 8, 2009

High Lights of History –    By J. Carroll Mansfield

Lawlessness and Crime Flourished

Frequent Killings

Dishonest Gamblers

Ineffectual Courts

Public Safety Committees

Vigilantes Establish Law and Order

New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) Jul 28, 1926

“Flopping Bill,” Unusual Character, Drove Out Montana Desperadoes

March 5, 2009


‘Flopping Bill’ Led In War on Lawless

Unusual Character, Who Won His Name as a Woodchopper, Was Chieftain of Men Who Drove Out Montana Desperadoes.

The settlement of Clarks Fork valley and this section of the Yellowstone is an interesting chapter of the claiming of the northwest to civilization, according to accounts of the early happening, as told by pioneers of this region.

Within a scant two years after the founding of Billings in 1882, it was found necessary as in the case of Virginia City to organize the vigilantes for dealing in summary manner with horse thieves, operating along the Musselshell and in the country as far north as the Missouri.

In this movement, “Flopping Bill,” a character now all but forgotten, was in the forefront.

Where “Flopping Bill” came from none can say; probably he was one of many attracted to Montana from the middle west during the gold excitement. It has been written that his real name was “Quantrell” and that he participated with the famous “Quantrell” guerrillas in war times. But this is probably a yarn, and his true name is believed to have been William Cantrell.

How He Got His Name.

The nickname “Flopping Bill” was given to him when he was a woodchopper on the Missouri river. Bill was a hard worker and chopped and piled many hundreds of cords of wood for the river boats. When asked how he succeeded in getting out so much wood he once replied, “The trees is froze and I just strike ’em once and they flop open.” So he was named “Flopping Bill.”

Bill lived along the Missouri river for many years and knew every one of the desperate characters who crossed and recrossed the river with stolen horses and made its banks their rendezvous. He lived down there as long as it was considered healthful for one, not a member of the gang and after that he went to Maiden and became a cowboy with the “D.H.S.” outfit. He was chosen leader and guide of the fearless men who undertook to rid this country of some of the worst thieves and desperadoes who ever drove off a bunch of stock.

Two Rustlers Killed.

The first appearance of the vigilantes was at Claggett, now Judith, on the Missouri, June 28, 1884. There one breed was shot and another hanged. The name of the breed who was captured and hanged was Narcisse Laverdure; his uncle was wounded but got away. A man by the name of William T. Thompson came upon this pair with 60 head of stolen horses. He was taking Laverdure to Claggett when over taken by a posse, who relieved him of his prisoner, and after securing the breed’s confession, hanged him to a convenient tree.

Here are transcriptions of two news articles for the incident above:

A horsethief named Narcisse Laverdure was lynched at Judith Landing on the Missouri on the night of the 26th of June.

Helena Independent, The (Helena, Montana) Jul 10, 1884

Near Judith Landing, on the Missouri river, on the 26th of June last, two half-breeds stole five head of horses from A.J. Wells’s band. As they were driving them off they were met by William Thompson, who knew the horses and ordered them to stop. This they refused to do, but separated and started off at full speed. Thompson gave chase to one of them and captured his man. He was brought back to Judith Landing, and the same night, fourteen hours after the horses were stolen, was hanged to a cottonwood tree and placarded “Horsethief.” His name was Narcisse Laverdure, and his companion who escaped was his uncle.

Helena Independent, The (Helena, Montana) Jul 13, 1884

Back to the original article:

July 3 another breed, Sam McKenzie, was taken on the Fort Maginnis reservation and hanged, his body being left suspended with a placard attached reading “Horse Thief.” The soldiers cut down the body and interred the remains.

Organization of the vigilantes had not then been fully perfected, but a start had been made.

Fourth of July Battle.

On July 4 a party of men passed through Maiden en route to Spring creek in quest of Charles Owens and Charles Fallon, much desired had men. Arriving at Lewistown that night they found that the good people of the new town had already taken good care of these two, for both had been killed the same afternoon in a pitched battle with the citizens.

It was then arranged that one party should leave the following morning for the mouth of the Musselshell, where they were to be joined by another party, which, taking a different route, was to meet them at the rendezvous across the Musselshell, but on this side of the Missouri. The main party stalked their game to the cabin of one, Downs, which had been looked upon as a meeting place of the horse thieves, and, taking Downs by surprise, secured information from him which greatly assisted them in locating some of the characters most desired and incidentally ascertaining where there were cached a bunch of horses which had recently been stolen from stockmen of the basin. One story is to the effect that Downs was anchored to a grindstone in the river, but be that as it may, he was disposed of and at the same time a fellow known as California Ed met his just deserts.

But the smaller party had failed to make a junction with the rest of the vigilantes and to ascertain their whereabouts a wait occurred. Two days later the parties were united and a start was made down the river. Crossing 12 miles below the mouth of the Musselshell, the men continued down the river, traveling light and only at night, in order not to flush their game.

Fight Around Blockhouse.

Late in the evening of July 19 they came upon old man James and his gang. The thieves had guards out to note the approach of intruders, but the vigilantes succeeded in creeping in and not until about sun-up were they discovered. Here there was a blockhouse, or log cabin provided with port holes, an improvised tent made of a wagon sheet hung, over a pole, a corral and stables. One of the guards, abandoning his mount, when he saw the vigilantes had the camp surrounded, succeeded in creeping in through the brush and reaching the tent, where a part of the 13 of the gang were sleeping. Some made a dash for the blockhouse, 300 feet distant, while others took to the brush. Of the latter was Dixie Burroughs, a nephew of Granville Stuart, but one of the worst of the rustlers. He received a shot which crippled him, but he found a cottonwood well which gave him shelter and he afterward escaped to meet his fate within a month later. Old man James attempted to reach the blockhouse, but hit being made too hot for him he was forced to let down the bars of the corral and turn loose six head of fine horses, nearly all of which had been stolen from the mounted police of Canada. The old man, however, succeeded in reaching the house and participated in the battle, which lasted from soon after sunrise to 11 o’clock. In this fight two of the James boys were killed, also a fellow known as “Dutch,” and four were crippled, including Burroughs and old man James whose given name was never known.

Stolen Horses Recovered.

Hundreds of shots were exchanged between the vigilantes, protected by the brush, and the men in the house. The stable and corral, were fired but the house did not catch fire, as some stories of this fight have stated. Seeing that they were baffled and that the situation was such that some of their own men might be injured or killed, it was decided to withdraw and wait a better opportunity to deal out justice to the remnants of the gang.

In this fight there were 16 vigilantes engaged and there were supposed to be 13 of the gang of thieves. Seventy head of horses were captured, sent back to Fort Maginnis and restored to their owners as far as possible.

The party then went down the Missouri to the mouth of Hell creek, crossing the Big Muddy at the same point chosen by Chief Joseph when at the head of his Nez Perce warriors he crossed to the north side to meet General Miles in battle. On the ride up Hell creek to its head two more bad half-breeds were overtaken, but both were turned loose, after being relieved of some information and the horses they were riding.

Cattle Turned Back to Range.

From Walter & Donovan’s point 120 head of cattle were driven out and turned back toward their range. These had been stolen from stockmen on the Musselshell and driven in there for butchering.

This completed the biggest job of that summer and the vigilantes returned to their ordinary vocations.

About the middle of August word was received at Fort Maginnis that soldiers from Fort Shaw, camped on Poplar river, had captured five of the desperadoes who had successfully stood off the vigilantes at the James stockade and the authorities were advised that if a United States marshal was sent the captives would be turned over to him.

Prisoners Taken From Posse.

Sam Fishel, a deputy then stationed at Fort Maginnis, was started accompanied by a posse. He received the prisoners on Poplar river and turned back, but about 3 a.m. of August 20 he was relieved of his charges by four men who had their plans well laid, and had secured a leave of absence of two or three days from the Judith round-up and the next morning five bodies, including that of Dixie Burroughs, were laid in a shallow trench alongside the waters of the Missouri — and there weren’t any nooses left dangling from the trees either, for these five were suspended from a single rope, thrown over a branch, with a sufficient force at one end to lift the burden tied to the other end for the brief time required. These five went across the great divide in one, two, three order.

Float Down to St. Louis.

This was the last of the vigilantes in this part of Montana, for during the six or eight weeks preceding this last episode raft building had been popular and many a man had saved his neck by floating away toward St. Louis.

“Flopping Bill” afterwards acted as a guide for a party of stockmen which made a similar clean-up on the lower Yellowstone and crossing its mouth, followed up Mouse creek to the Canadian line, having occasion to dig several long and narrow graves while en route. It was reported that 60 were summarily disposed of on this expedition.

Cantrell continued to be identified with the stockmen of this section for a number of years. Leaving Fergus county he located in the southwestern part of the state and upon an expedition to Kansas City several years later he was run over by a train, his feet catching in the rails as he attempted to cross the track ahead of a locomotive.

The Billings Gazette (Montana) Saturday, July 9, 1927

For more, see previous post, “Flopping Bill” Cleans the Ranges of Desperados.

“Flopping Bill” Cleans the Ranges of Desperados

February 26, 2009


Thirty Horse Thieves and Cattle Rustlers, in Two Months, Were Hanged and Shot by the Determined Vigilantes of the Northern Montana Plains. Prominent Men Were Involved in the Raid That Cleaned the Ranges of Desperados. Death Was Quick and Sure. Prisoners Were Taken From United States Troops and Lynched. The Story Told for the First Time. The Law Called a Halt.

It is a story of which little has been told. Most of those who rode with “Flopping Bill’s” vigilantes have left the state or crossed the Great Divide. Those who have remained are reticent. As to the 30 or more desperate horse thieves and cattle rustlers who operated in Northern Montana in the early eighties — well, bleaching bones on wind-swept prairies tell no tales.

In 1885 the cattle and horse business in Northern Montana was becoming more and more unprofitable, for the reason that there were organized bands of horse thieves who had stopping places from the Canadian line to Mexico, and who made more money in the business of stealing horses and live stock than the real owners could in raising them. Of course more horses than cattle were stolen, because they were easier to get away with, and in those days were worth a great deal more money.

The stealing became so serious that the cattlemen of Northern Montana were forced to do something, and in the fall of 1885 they did it. When the cattlemen start to do anything they do it up brown, and it was so in this case.

The tale of the hanging of the road agents of 1863-4 by the vigilantes of Alder gulch has been told so often that it became known from one end of the world to the other, and it is looked upon as the biggest thing of its kind which was ever pulled off in Montana. This is a mistake and the cowboys of Northern Montana during the year of 1885, from September to November, hanged and shot more men than the vigilantes of Alder gulch ever dreamed of. This may seem like a fairy tale at this time, but it is a fact, and there are men in Northern Montana at the present day who have the papers to prove the assertion.

During the fall round-up of the Judith in the fall of 1885 it was decided to do some hanging. Who proposed the matter, or by whom meetings were held, it is not necessary to state, as on of the leaders of the cowboy vigilantes in now a prosperous stockman within a few miles of old Fort Maginnis, another is a prosperous sheepman living near Ubet, and another lives in Butte, after having spent a number of years abroad. And there are others, but the matter of the real extermination of the rustler was carried on under the direction of “Flopping Bill” Cantrell.

“Flopping Bill” was a desperate character himself and worked against the rustlers because it paid better than to work with them. From September, 1885 until the weather became too cold to ride, “Flopping Bill” and his band of cowboy exterminators worked, and when they had finished there was no count of the men whose candles had been snuffed, but there are men in Great Falls today who can name at least 26 of them, and it has always been estimated that about 30 people were hanged or shot by “Flopping Bill’s” band during that fall.

The first performer in the bloody drama of extermination as carried on by “Flopping Bill” was a half-breed near Fort Maginnis. Some one believed that he had stolen a steer and butchered it, and one night during August, 1885, he was taken near the ranch of Reese Anderson and strung up to a cottonwood tree without a chance to say his prayers, if he knew any.

That was the beginning, and shortly after “Flopping Bill” called for volunteers to search for horses which had been stolen from the herds of several well known stockmen. The requisition was made upon the round-up, which was camped on the Musselshell about 60 miles above the mouth, and reckless riders and desperate men only were chosen.

The posse made a hard ride that day, and by night they came to the cabin of a man named Downs, near the mouth of the Musselshell. Downs kept a sort of trading post, and was suspected of being in league with the thieves. It was early daylight when the posse arrived and they at once surrounded the cabin, and when Downs came out it was “hands up.”


A search of the corral and vicinity discovered 22 D.H.S. horses, and Downs was asked to explain. He saw that he was up against it, and gave a full list of all the men connected with the “rustling” business, and indicated where they had their rendezvous. The Missouri runs swift and deep where the waters of the Musselshell enter it, and the banks are high and steep. A rope was placed about the neck of Downs, and a convenient tree was looked for. Some one spied a large grindstone which stood alongside of the cabin.

“Tie it to his neck and drop him in the river,” was the suggestion, and it was carried out literally. To-day the big round grindstone, with the hole in the center, lies in the bottom of the Missouri near the mouth of the Musselshell, and if time and water have not proven too much for the hempen rope the neck bones, at least, of Jim Downs are the grindstone’s companion.

Armed with the information derived from Downs the posse rode south to the mouth of Lodge Pole creek, where there were several “rustlers” located, and in the early morning light three of them were captured and strung up on some cottonwood trees which surrounded the cabin where they had lived. One of the hempen ropes with which the hanging was done swung in the breeze for many years, and perhaps is there yet — it was up to five years ago.

Some of the cowboys in the posse began to get more than they had bargained for, and wanted to quit the business, but “Flopping Bill” pointed out to them that they would be hanged by the civil law if their share in the impromptu hanging was known, and that together with other cogent reasons prompted them to remain.

The next bunch of rustlers was located along the Missouri. They passed as woodchoppers, and a large number of them had rendezvous at Long John’s Bottom on the Missouri, a short ways below the mouth of the Musselshell.

“Flopping Bill’s” posse came upon the camp early one morning, and was discovered by the horse herder, whom they promptly shot, and charged upon the camp. There was a block house with a stable attached, belonging to the rustlers, but most of them were sleeping in tents, and when they shooting began one of them was shot while getting to the block house. Once there they defied the posse, and it was only by strategy that they were dislodged. While the posse kept a hail of bullets against the house, one of the cowboys sneaked up there through the grass and set fire to the stable, and it in turn fired the block house. Just how many rustlers were killed will never be known, but there were at least 11 in the house and six were taken prisoners, while one escaped.

The one who got away was Dixey Burroughs, a half breed, and well known in Northern Montana. Burroughs managed to get away from the house, and was stopped by one of the outer guards, bu dropped behind a log and at the fourth shot managed to get his man, and escaped. Who the cowboy was that was shot has never been divulged. He was buried where he fill and a hint given that nothing was to be said about it.

That night “Flopping Bill” went away and during the night a number of men rode up to the camp of the cowboys, and after a sham battle, took six prisoners, and in the morning their bodies were decorating the Cottonwoods, on the east end of Long John’s Bottom. “Flopping Bill” came back and said the men who had taken the prisoners were a posse from Miles City — and nobody inquired further.

When Dixey Burroughs escaped he crossed the Missouri on a raft, and met old man James and his two sons, Dick and Jim, together with two others. This part of the gang had not been home when the cowboys called, and when Dixey told his story they saw that there was death in the air, and started down the river on a raft. They knew the cowboys were after them and that they would be shown no mercy, and so when near Poplar, they surrendered to a sergeant and a detail of seven United States soldiers, and asked to be taken to Fort Maginnis for trial. The sergeant and his detail started with the prisoners for Maginnis, and early the third morning they awoke to find themselves in the hands of a dozen masked men.

“Hitch up your outfit and drive straight on,” said the leader of the party, “and we will not injure you at all; refuse and we will kill you all. The prisoners are ours.”

The sergeant, whose name is not recalled — the whole affair appears in the records of the post during this year — hitched up and drove on as requested, and the dozen masked were left behind. The prisoners were never seen again, except that a couple of years ago an old-timer told a story of meeting Dixey Burroughs over the Canadian line, and he said he had been spared his life by promising to leave the country.

After these the hangings were desultory, but the aggregate for the two months of September and October is believed to have amounted to about 30. The cowboys would be riding the round-up, and some night word would go around and in the morning 20 of them would be gone for a day or a week, and no questions asked.

That winter, it is related, a crowd of men rode up to the place where the cowboy vigilante crew were quartered, and served notice that everyone of them must leave the country or die. The majority of them left, and have met death in one way or another, but there are still two or three of the posse remaining in Northern Montana, but they do not boast of having belonged to “Flopping Bill’s avengers” in ’85. “Flopping Bill” also found it advisable to leave the country many years ago, and less than two months ago his death was recorded in old Missouri — for Bill was a Missourian and had ridden with Quantrell.

The 1885 episode of the rope and gun has not been written about very much, but the advertising it got was such as to discourage “rustling” in Northern Montana for many years, so that it is only the pilgrim of recent years who has been reviving the business — the real old-times of the bad lands would not take any one’s stock as a gift — but “Flopping Bill,” the man of nerve, without human feeling, has gone over the divide, and perhaps the stock inspectors may be given more work in consequence.

The Anaconda Standard: Sunday Morning, Aug 11, 1901.


AS IT WAS In Billing 45 YEARS Ago Today
(From the Billings Gazette, May 28, 1885)

William Cantrell, one of the stock inspectors of the territorial association, and known in the Maiden country as “Flopping Bill,” is attending court, as a witness. (Cantrell was an important figure in the cleaning out of the rustlers along the Musselshell by Granville Stuart and his cowboys in 1884.)

Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana) May 28, 1930

The Brown Brothers: Execution Day

January 2, 2009
Old West Hanging

Old West Hanging

The background articles about the Brown family and the murders committed were posted Dec 30, 2008. I can’t figure out how to link back to the post.


History of Their Crimes.
(Special Telegram to the News)

DENTON, via Pilot Point, Nov. 21.– Some years ago, within the recollection of children born at the outbreak of the war, a man was hanged in Denton by a mob. A gallows, rude and ???????????? ?????? today almost upon the same spot, for the ????????? of crimes committed by two young men, who, like the executioners of the man, had taken the execution of the laws into their own hands. The first death ?????? ended the earthly career of a black fiend, and the last was the ex???? of two of the most savagely bloodthirsty whtie men who ever darkened the doors of a penitentiary.

whose sould were launched into eternity were George and Andrew Brown, natives of Missouri. They were the terror of Montague county, where they were directly and indirectly implicated in fourteen murders.

The criminals paid the death penalty for the murder of Doc McClain, in Montague county, in May 1876, this fourteenth known victim of the “vigillante,”of which they were members. They were jointly indicted as principals in the district court of that county. Their father, George Brown Sr., and the oldest brother Jesse Brown, were also indicted, but were charged with being accomplices who were not present when the crime was committed, but who prior to its commission advised, commanded and prepared arms and aid for the purpose of assisting the principals in the execution of the dead. In June, 1877, all the defendants united in an application for a change of venue, setting forth this usual statutory grounds, and supported by the affidavits of eleven resident citizens, who bore witness to the high state of feeling existing against them in the county. The application was granted, and the court ordered the venue changed and the cause transferred to Denton county, together with three other cases, in which the Browns and their confederates were charged with the murder of R.S. Morrow, in September 1873; Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow, in June 1875; and Freeman Batchlor, in November, 1875. Before the cases were transferred by change of venue, George Brown, Jr., was tried, on a severance, forthe murder of R.S. Morrow, found guilty of murder in the first degree, and appealed from the judgement of conviction. The cause was still pending in the court of appeals when he was arraigned for

At the February term of the district court of Denton county, 1876, Andrew, Jesse and George Brown, Jr., were placed upon their trial, they having been duly arraigned, and their plea of not guilty having been entered in Montague county before the venue was changed. The testimony established the fact that Doc McClain, a stranger in the neighborhood, was killed on Farmer’s creek, in Montague county, in May, 1876. On the morning of the day McClain was killed, the principal witness for the prosecution saw George Brown, Jr., Andrew Brown, Sampson and John Barrass coming towards and pass out of sight into a ravine, near the banks of which the deceased was killed. The witness saw the deceased walking ahead of him in a bridle-path toward the ford of the creek about the same time that he noticed the armed party enter the ravine. The deceased walked about one hundred yards further when the witness saw the party rise up from behind the bank and shoot at the deceased, who immediately fell and commenced struggling as though he was in agony. A minute later he saw George Brown, Jr., run out of the ambush and shoot McClain with a pistol, when he (witness) hurriedly left the vicinity, fearing that if seen he would be killed. He concealed the facts until the Browns were brought to trial, not having even intimated the murder to his brother, although the following day they had in company passed the scene. McClain was buried near the spot where he was killed.

Another witness testified that on the day before the killing, George Brown, Jr., told him that deceased was spotted and would be gotten away with, and that on the day following the murder he was approached by Jesse Brown, who asked him, significantly, “Has George got you under control?” and then developed that it was expected that he would go to the scene where the inquest was being held over the body of McClain, and casually inform the jury that he had seen three men from the Indian nation, on the morning of the killing, looking for a robber, and express the belief that they “got away with Doc.” This conversation occurred within ear-shot of a school-house, and was heard by the teacher, who subsequently, together with Johnson, was ordered out of the state under pain of death if he remained or spoke of what he had overheard. Another witness, Joseph Collier, who had known the deceased in Grayson county, and had met him in the neighborhood, testified that in a conversation with Jesse Brown, after the killing, about a written warning he had received to leave the county, Jesse had promised to protect him. The deceased, Brown said, was a thief, and some one had followed McClain from the nation and got away with him. The witness’s brother lived at Johnson’s in the same house with McClain, and had been forced to flee the county. Jesse Brown, speaking of him to witness, said: “Joe, you know, you and I have been friends. Your brother John is a young fellow. I sent him word to get out of the country to keep from being killed. He is young, and

if he is a thief.” The result of the trial was that George and Andrew Brown were found guilty of murder in the first degree with the the death penalty assessed, and Jesse Brown, the accomplice, was found not guilty and acquitted. A motion for a new trial was made, the main ground of which was to obtain the testimony of their co-defendant, Jesse Brown, and of whose testimony, up to the time of his acquittal, they were deprived by virtue of the fact that he was jointly indicted and on trial with them. In addition to the sworn statement of the defendants as to what this new witness would swear, the affidavit of Jesse Brown himself sets out the facts that he would contradict the main witness of the state in his declaration with regard to statements made to him by ?????; and further, that he would prove that on the morning of the day McClain was killed three armed strangers came to his house and inquired for McClain, whom they said parties from Red river and the nation were hunting; that one Milas Miller had told him that he was going to kill McClain, about a week before the deed was committed; that this party from the nation was watching round Johnson’s house (where McClain and young Collier were living) for them, and said if they did not leave the country they would kill them; that Miller had told him that he had found out, in the Indian nation, that McClain and Collier were members of an organized band of thieves, and that there was a party coming over to kill them; and that he warned young Collier, who was a brother of a hand on his farm, to leave the country or he would be gotten away with. The motion for a new trial was overruled, and an appeal was subsequently taken from the judgement of the court.

Before the motion for a new trial in the McClain case was filed, Andrew Brown was put on trial for the murder of R.S. Morrow, for which he was indicted jointly with his brother George, Albert Haw and J.W. Bell. Haw fled the country, and is a fugitive in the mountains of Virginia, and Bell was arrested, bailed, jumped his bond, and has taken refuge in New Mexico. George was tried in Montague for this crime, convicted of murder in the first degree, and appealed his case, which was reversed by the superior court. The facts elicited on the trial of Andrew Brown were that R.S. Morrow had settled on a pre-emption claim in the neighborhood of the Browns, on Farmers creek, in Montague county. He lived on good terms with the Browns, but was under the ban of the vigilants. On the night of the 14th of September, 1873, his mules were turned out of his pastures by J.W. Bell, a member of the vigilants. The next morning, on discovering the absence of his mules, he started to hunt them up, accompanied by his six-year old boy, and a lad from the nation. As they were about crossing the ford, where McClain was subsequently murdered, a volley was fired, riddling him with buckshot and bringing him down from his horse. While attempting to regain his feet one of the party of murderers rushed up from the bank, threw him on his back, and placing the muzzle of his gun under Morrow’s chin, fired, tearing away the windpipe arterius. The children were carried back to the homestead by the frightened horses, after the discharge of the volley, unhurt, although Morrow was riding between them when he was first shot. Early the next morning Andrew and Jesse Brown were soon armed in the town of Montague, and apparently on the alert. They stated that Morrow had been killed, and fearing that a mob would rise and hang them, they had come to town for protection. They gave themselves up to the authorities, and on preliminary trial the same day before J.M. Grisby, a justice of the peace, they were

In a conversation in 1875, with one of the witnesses for the state, Andrew Brown told the witness that Jesse Brown had always poked and worked him up to the murdering point when a man “in their beat” had to be disposed of, and that he and George never would have killed R.S. Morrow, if it had not been for Jesse and the old man. “My father and Jesse,” he said, “were after us every time we came home to kill Morrow, and offered us all the money we wanted to do so; but when we finally did kill him, the old man never even gave us supper when we went there the night of the killing.” The boys were married and lived on farms of their own in the vicinity, which is known as the Brown neighborhood. The defense in this and the McClain case attempted to introduce evidence which would go to show that these murders were the result of lynch trials, and the parties to the deeds ?????ed as executioners, but the court overruled it in every instance, the unknown parties alleged by the defense not being on trial. The jury in the Morrow case returned a verdict against Andrew Brown of murder in the first degree. It is from this judgement of conviction that Andrew Brown brought his case to the court of appeals, where it is still pending.

The next case called, and before any steps for a new trial in the McClain case were taken by the defense, was that of the state against George and Andrew Brown, who were indicted jointly with George Ross?, Thomas White and M.B. Wal?er, for the murder of Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow, wife of Rat Morrow. The Browns were the only defendents brought to trial. White had been arrested and released on a heavy appearance bond, which he jumped before the term of the court convened, at which Jesse Brown was tried for the murder of Batchlor; M.B. Waller had fled the country before the indictment was found, was last seen in eastern Kentucky, and is supposed to be now in British America, near its southern boundary line; George Ross turned state evidence, and was the witness whose testimony convicted Jesse Brown, who is now serving the term in the penitentiary. In order to clear the cause of legal entanglements, the case against George Brown for the murder of Rat Morrow–which as above stated, had been reversed by the court of appeals and remanded to the lower court in Montague county for a rehearing– was dismissed, and he, jointly with Andrew Brown, was arraigned in the case of Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow. The state in this case dis???ed for murder in the first degree, and the defendants plead guilty to

The facts show that after the murder of her husband Mrs. Morrow moved with her two children to St. Joe, where she occupied rented premises. The bed she occupied was near and in front of a window. Two years subsequently, about ten o’clock at night, a volley of seven shots was fired into the bed. For some reason unknown, she and her children were sleeping on a pallet on the floor. Startled by the volley, and realizing, doubtless, what she had feared, she ran out of the house to take refuge in the house of a neighbor. As she ran through the garden several shots wer fired at her, one taking effect in her thigh and breaking it. While  down George Ross, Andrew Brown and others of the party closed in and finished her with pistol balls, and leisurely remounting their horses rode away. The mruder was for the double purpose of suppressing her testimony in the case of her husband and to wrench from her children her pre-emption claim to the homestead on Farmers creek. It is alleged, to travel outside of the record, that before moving she placed a tenant on the claim who was to hold it in her name for twelve months to perfect her title. This tenant, at the expiration of the year, claimed that she had abandoned the claim and he had settled on it as a pre-emptor.

In this case Geo. Ross, M.B. Waller, Thomas White and J.C. Thompson, members of the vigilants in the Brown beat, were jointly indicted as principals, for the murder of Freeman Batchlor, in November, 1875. Jesse Brown was also indicted, but he was charged with being an accomplice, who was not present when the crime was committed, but who furnished arms and a horse to Geo. Ross to execute the deed while Batchlor was out with the party on the cattle trail. All the parties to the murder fled the country excepting Jesse Brown, on learning that the matter was being investigated by the grand jury of Montague. The whereabout of Ross was known to authorities, and at their suggestion Gov. Hubbard offered a reward for his apprehension. The action of the governor was made known to the county authorities in Arkansas, where Ross and his wife had taken refuge. He was arrested and brought back to Montague on a requisition of the governor, and at the first term of hte district court held afterwards, “poached” and was used as a state witness on the trial of Jesse Brown, as an accomplice, who was convicted and his punishment assessed at twenty-five years in the penitentiary, which term he is now serving at Huntsville.

Batchlor was a member of the vigilants, as was George Ross. They had been warm personal friends up to within a month of the horrible murder. The belle of Farmers creek, a buxom lass of seventeen, was the cause of the estrangement, Batchlor and Ross being rivals for her hand. The former was the favorite of the lass. The courtship was yet in the bud, neither of the rivals having formally proposed marriage. Ross was bold and unscrupulous, and the favorite with the younger members of the vigilants. On a trumped-up charge, the death of Batchlor was debated in committee and defeated by Jesse Brown, who suspected the crookedness of the charge. Subsequently Ross an his friend got a quorum together and passed the death sentence. Batchlor’s horses, together with those of Waller, White, Ross and Thompson, were stampeded in the direction of the nation, where Batchlor was invited to go with the party to drive them back. Toward nightfall he suspected that Ross would attempt foul play, and informing him of his suspicion, warned him if he made “a bad break” he would kill him. They encamped that night on the banks of Red river. While the party were lying down on their blankets chatting, Waller shot Batchlor in the right side, Ross gave him the contents of two barrels in the left side. While Batchlor was yet alive he robbed him of his shirt-studs and collar button, drew his head over the trunk of a fallen tree,

with his hunting-knife, and threw it into the river, where his body was also thrown afterward. Returning to their homes the party circulated the report that Batchlor had been killed in a difficulty with an Indian, who had, according to the report in the nation, thrown  his body into Red river. A few months afterward Ross married the belle, and, when the crimes committed by the vigilants were begun to be inquired into by the outraged citizens of Montague county, fled to Arkansas where his wife followed him. The shirt-studs and collar-button of Freeman Batchlor were of gold and peculiar in shape. When Ross testified on behalf of hte state in the trial of Jesse Brown, he had them on, and they were recognized by every one present who had known Batchlor in life. His testimony was point blank that, prior to Batchlor’s murder, Brown had advised, commanded and encouraged him and the others in its commission, and prepared arms and horses for the purpose of assisting him and Waller in the execution of the deed.

After sentence was passed in the case convicting George and Andrew Brown of murder in the second degree in the cause of Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow, the punishment for which was fixed by the jury at thrity years in the penitentiary, the defense filed a motion for a new trial in the McClain case on behalf of George and Andrew Brown, and a similar motion on behalf of Andrew Brown in the Rat Morrow case. The motion was overruled in both cases and appeals were taken. Pending the notion of the court of appeals, sentence was passed on the criminals in the case of Mrs. Elizabeth Morrow, and the convicts taken to Huntsville and placed in the penitentiary to serve out the thirty years term. Subsequently the court acted on the McClain case, affirming the judgement of the lower court, but the appeal of Andrew Brown, in the Rat Morrow case, is still pending. On the oder of the district judge, and by advice of hte attorney general, the prisoners were taken out of the penitentiary and brought to Denton to receive the death sentence in accordance with the mandates of hte court of appeals. After sentence, the last effort of their attorney was for a commutation of the sentence from death to penitentiary for life, based upon the facts that the condemned young men were deluded and beguiled by the quasi-military

into their organization and thence into the several deeds of bloody murder with which they are charged; that hey had been in the penitentiary, under a plea of guilt of murder in the second degree, where they were serving a thirty years term when the death sentence was passed on them; that the jury that returned the verdict against them, joined in a petition ????????? the law had left it discretionary ?????????? they would have fixed the ?????? imprisonment for life; that the officers and authorities of the state prison at Huntsville, where these criminals have recently been confined, also forwarded strong recommendations for commutation, based upon the good behavior of these prisoners and that the citizens of Montague, Cooke, Grayson and Denton counties, after viewing the circumstances of the killing, petitioned for executive clemency.

These petitions were signed by some eight hundred citizens of Montague county, said to be representative men; some five hundred citizens of Cooke and Grayson counties, and about the same number of citizens of Denton county., including the officers of the county, excepting the prosecuting attorney, the members of the bar generally, and Miss Callie Forester and a number of ladies of Denton, who are noted at their homes for acts of kindness and charity, and their exemplary religious and moral bearing. These petitions were left with Gov. Roberts by Mr. M. Fulton, the indefatigable attorney of the defendants, who called the attention of the executive to all of the points. The governor took the matter under advisement, promising to telegraph the result, and the attorney left without encouragement. The response came on the day indicated, and with its perusal perished the last, earthly hope of the criminals.

On Sunday last the reporter of the News visited the condemned in their cell. George is of medium size, lean, and wiry in his movements. His eyes are small, hazel in color and penetrating in gaze. While his mouth and chin indicate great firmness, there is nothing in his features suggestive of brutality. He is intelligent, expresses himself with ease, and is above the average frontier-raised mad in education. Andrew is over the medium in height and in frame a fine specimen of the muscular farmer. His eyes are blue, and frank in expression. His face and head are round and his features German. He is full of life, and is a jolly fellow in manners and conversation. When the reporter entered the jail he found the passageway between the iron cage and the walls of the jail occupied by ladies and gentleman of various denominations who were holding a union prayer meeting. During the intermissions between the hymns, the criminals and their fellow prisoners would talk with the visitors upon religious subjects and about the status of their cases.

In an interview with George Brown, after religious service, he gave the reporter a rambling history of the vigilants. It appears from his statement htat a vigilance committee was organized at Red river station in 1872 to drive outlaws out of the county, which was then the readezvous of the worst characters in the Indian nation, and on the Texas frontier. In 1873 Brown’s father moved to Montague from Grayson county. The old man located on Farmers creek. During the first month on the new farm his horses and cattle were preyed upon by the outlaws on Red river in the nation. His complaints to the authorities lead to his boys’ connection with the band. Maj? Bronson was the reported head of the vigilants, who appointed a captain in every precinct in the county. The object of hte organization was to assist the civil authorities in bringing to justice horse and cattle thieves, and other bad characters. Toward the close of that year some members of the committee took the administration of the law into their own hands, and hung or shot the outlaws wherever caught. The vigilants in Brown’s beat were opposted to this summary proceeding, and confined their operations to apprehending had characters, and turning them over to the authorities for punishment. Sampson Barras, a brother-in-law of the Browns and now an inmate of the penitentiary, was

in the vigilance organization. His confederates were Dave Priso?, Abe Walins, George Imboden, George Howard, James Wise, George Richardson, Bill Brands, James Drake and others. The murders committed by the lynch party were made known to the Browns by their brother-in-law, and afterward, in a number of cases, confirmed by some of the above parties confessing their participation in the killing. The knowledge thus obtained, George says, has led to his, Andrew and Jesse Brown’s conviction for some of the crimes committed by the lynchers. When the outrages of hte lynchers aroused the citizens of Montague, and the murders committed begun to be looked into by the authorities, their conviction of death became necessary to the safety of the lynchers. Testimony was manufactured and conviction secured. “Iti s a notorious fact,” Brown said, “that Sirton remarked in the witness room that we must swear to enough to convict them, that is Jesse, Andrew and myself.” When asked by the reporter for the names of some representative men in Montague county who were members of the vigilance committee, he replied, “I have nothing to say concerning them. They acted for the public good, and in assisting the authorities in suppressing crime, they advanced the prosperity, peace and quiet of Montague. If you must know my feelings toward them, I tell you I will never say anything against a good man and citizen, no matter what I know on him.” The prisoner was calm and resigned to his fate. His parting words to the reporter were, “I hope that my friends and the justice-loving citizens of Montague will see to it that the judicial investigations wind out square for then in the final wind-up all will come right.”

Promptly at 1.35, the hour fixed for execution, the condemned were brought from the jail and


The sheriff read the death warrant and the governor’s refusal to commute the sentence to imprisonment for life, at the close of which George Brown addressed the crowd, in a five minutes speech, during which he said that he had made a statement for publication which would show that he was not more guilty than others who are at large.

At the conclusion of his speech Rev. Dr. Grafton, of the Cumberland presbyterian church, read the fourteenth chapter of Job; two hymns were sung, in which the concourse joined. Andrew Brown refused to speak, and maintained to the last that he was innocent of the murder of McClain.

the only member of the family present, left the gallows before the trap was sprung. Handshaking was indulged in for several minutes. At 2.10 the ropes were adjusted and the black caps put on and their legs and arms pinloned. At 2.18 the sheriff cut the trap-rope, the drop fell and the criminals were

George died in nine minutes, his neck being broken. Andrew died in eleven minutes of strangulations.

The execution was witnessed by seven thousand people.

of the condemned was brought about by a family quarrel, and the jealousy of Andrew’s wife, whose husband was a gallant among women in the neighborhood. She and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Barros, were devoted friends, and sided against the Browns in the quarrel, during which the boys were charged with the assassination of R.A.F. Morrow, which they tbreatened to make public. A meeting of the vigilants was called, especially for the purpose of posing the death decree on the women. Their husbands were present at this meeting and sanctioned the proceedings. The plan agreed upon was that Barros’s wife should spend the following Saturday with Andrew Brown’s wife, when they were to be assassinated; and the crime charged to outlaws who had been driven out of the county into the nation. Barros informing his wife of the plan, and guarding her against ??y allusion to the matter, secrectly made his way during the night to Montague and informed county attorney Matlock of the situation, and made a full confession. He swore an affidavit against the Browns for the murder of McClain, upon which affidavit they were arrested. The Barros family removed the same day to Montague. During the investigation of the McClain murder the vigilants took fright and several of them turned state’s evidence when the catalogue of crime committed by the vigilants became known. Mrs. Barrow is sister of the Browns, both of whom are married. Andrew leaves two children and George a son by his first wife. His second wife abandoned him.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Nov. 22, 1879

The Brown Family: When Vigilantism Turns to Outright Murder

December 30, 2008
Texas Vigilantes

Texas Vigilantes

George Brown, Sr., and his sons, George Jr.,  Andrew and Jesse, along with others, evidently started out as vigilantes in the wild west of Texas, but soon began to abuse the power of justice and went on a murdering rampage over several years before being convicted. George, Jr. and Andrew were eventually hung for their crimes, but not before 14  people were murdered.

The Gainesville Gazette contains the following shocking narrative: “Monday, Nov. 2d, three men went to the house of the Estes brothers — three bachelor brothers living together — at Post Oak Tavern, Montague county, and there took breakfast, after which the strangers took two of the Estes brothers out and murdered them about one-half a mile from the tavern, and left. The same night, while friends were sitting up with the corpses, the same party that murdered the two brothers returned and dragged the remaining brother out of the house, a distance of fifty yards, and there murdered him. The parties were unknown to the citizens of the country in which the murders were committed. The Estes brothers, report sayeth, bore an unenviable reputation.”

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 12 Nov 1874

The Denison News contains the following account of a terrible crime: “Wednesday night, the 15th of April, a party of eleven men surrounded the house of a widow woman named Mrs. Morrow, or Marrow, and commenced firing at the building, and through the windows and doors. It is estimated by those in the neighborhood that thirty-five or forty shots were fired, thirty of which it was found the next morning had struck the house. Mrs. Morrow was hit three times, one bullet taking effect in the right shoulder, one struck her in the leg, and the third hit her in the small of the back, penetrating the bowels, which last proved fatal. She lived an hour, or an hour and a half. A physician was summoned, but he could render no assistance. There are two suppositions given to account for the cowardly attack on Mrs. Morrow– one is based upon a rumor that she was cognizant of certain persons having been engaged in stealing horses, and had threatened to expose them; another that she is the only witness of the killing of her husband, which occurred about a year ago. A man who was also a witness was either put out of the way or induced to leave the country not long since. The murderers are still at large.”

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 07 May 1875

The North-West learns from Mr. Johns that developments have recently occurred in Montague county that implicate a family of Browns, consisting of George and George Brown Jr., Jesse and An?a Brown, living near Red River, as the murderers of Rat Morrow and wife, a man by the name of Bachelor and a Mr. McClain. Some of these murders were committed near two years ago, but no certain clue to the murders had been obtained. Recently some domestic difficulties occurred resulting in one of the Brown’s wives leaving her husband, and threatening to revenge herself for wrongs she has endured by informing the public who were the murderers. This determined the murdering party to protect themselves by putting her out of the way, and one of the number was ordered to kill her. He refusing to obey, became another dangerous element, and was sentenced to a like fate. He flew to the authorities for protection and the secret was out.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 04 Oct 1876

The Gainesville Gazette gives the following account of the wholesale assassinations which have prevailed for three years in Montague county: Three years ago R?t Marrow and the Brown family and several other parties living near Burlington, in Montague county, on the beef trail, got into a dispute about some cattle, and a short time afterward R?t Marrow was killed. Mrs. Marrow, the only witness to the murder of her husband, had the parties indicted. Threats against her life were made, and finally her house was burned and her body riddled with bullets. Some of the neighbors who took sides with the Marrows, shared similar fates–among whom were the three Easters brothers, who were killed in August, 1874,– Bachelor, whose headless body was found in Red River about a year ago, Kozier, whose body has never been found, but supposed to have been thrown into Red River, and a young man named McLain, killed last spring. Several parties who were witnesses to some of these bloody deeds have been intimidated and driven out of the country, and for this reason it has not been known until recently who were engaged in the murders. The citizens had a meeting a few weeks since, and from their movements a man by the name of Barris became uneasy and made some remarks that caused them to believe he was implicated. In the meantime, he had a falling-out with his comrades, and fearing that for knowing too much he would be put out of the way also, he went to some citizens and told them that if they would protect him he would tell who were the guilty parties, which they agreed to, and he gave the names of quite a number of individuals. Two of whom, Jesse Brown and Geo. Brown, Sen., have been arrested and put in jail; the others are still at large. Barris, who is a relative of the Browns, was also engaged in the murders, but says he was forced to it from threats. Great excitement prevails, and it is feared Barris will also be killed if not closely guarded.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 05 Oct 1876

The Ben Kribbs (Krebs) mentioned below will get his own post. It is quite a spectacular (and not in a good way)  story as well.

Ben Kribbs, the principal in the terrible murder of the England family in Montague county, has been tried and sentenced to death. The jury were out only five minutes. He appealed…..Geo. Brown, murderer of Robert S. Morrow, three years ago, has been sentenced to be hung, but also appealed.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 23 Nov 1876

The sheriff of Montague county, assisted by twelve rangers, brought down six Montague county prisoners to Gainesville last week, and lodged them in the Gainesville jail for safe keeping. The prisoners are all charged with murder, two of whom — Cribs and Brown — have been tried, and found guilty of murder in the first degree. They are waiting the decision of the Appellate Court.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 21 Dec 1876

Gainsville Gazette: From Mr. J.D. Taylor we received the following list of prisoners now confined in our county jail: From Denton–T.E. Bailey, charged with theft; John Russell, arson; A.G. Hall, theft; D.B. Deason, forgery; C.F. Mack, theft; Wm. Lunsford, theft; Geo. McDonald, (col.) assault. Montague County — Geo. Brown, A.J. Brown, Jessee Brown, Jessee Brown Jr., L.P. Preston, B. Kribbs, murder. Cooke County — J.G. Swaggerty, assault to murder; J.W. Roberson, murder; B.A. Cameron, swindling; Joe Johnson, J.W. Hughes, J. Robertson, Charles Shole, theft; W.D. Brown, assault to murder; Frank Widener, aggravated assault; J.A. Carrol, arson; Frank Kidd, drunkeness. Clay County — John Reed, Charles Holder, (col.) murder.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 11 Jan 1877

Monitor The court of appeals having affirmed the decision of our district court in the George Brown and Andrew Brown cases, those murderers will be hanged in Denton. They were charged with committing several murders in Montague county, but got a change of venue to Denton county.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) 04 Jun 1879

A final account(s) will follow this initial post, and will give lots of details about the various murders and the fates of the accused and convicted. The article is a long one, so I may break it up into more than one post.