The Horrell Brothers

In the latter half of the 1870s in Lampasas County, Texas a feud developed between two families, the Horrells and the Higgins.  Prior to that, the Horrell brothers, Mart, Tom, Merritt, Ben and Sam, had come to the attention of state law enforcement officers.  In early 1873, during a short period when the Texas Rangers had been disbanded by the federal government, the Horrells were involved in a several incidents.  In place of the former Texas Ranger force, reconstruction Governor Edmund J. Davis promoted a state police force around 1870 to be positioned in authority over all state-wide and local law enforcement.  This was on the heels of the end of the Civil War and the emphasis was to be inclusive of non-white lawmen when selecting officers, though some whites were also hired.  This led to race-related conflicts between the officers and the general population in addition to natural conflicts with criminal elements.  The Texas Rangers would later be reinstated in mid 1873.

Prior to the Rangers’ reinstatement, state police officers had come to Lampasas to investigate the murder of a local sheriff named Shadrick Denson.  Denson had allegedly been shot and killed not by them as far as we can determine, but by an associate of theirs named Short.   However, it appears that two of the Horrell brothers also intervened as Denson attempted to arrest Mark and Wash Short.  The sheriff was shot in the ensuing gun fight, though he recovered and carried the bullet until he died some 20 years later.  The sheriff’s son then shot and killed one of the Short brothers.  In connection with this event and the general unrest, a county judge named Pace had claimed that his life had been threatened and had appealed to Governor Davis for help and protection.  The Governor responded by sending some of the state police to respond.

A firearm prohibition had also been enacted, according to newspaper accounts, and a state police captain named Thomas Williams accompanied by seven of his troopers came to a local saloon in Lampasas and tried to detain some of the Horrell brothers for being armed with handguns.  A gunfight broke out between the police officers and the Horrells.  When the smoke had cleared, Williams and four of the troopers were dead (though some accounts say that the total was four).  Brother Mart Horrell was wounded and taken to a jail in Georgetown, Texas along with several other men.  The other brothers laid low and avoided capture long enough for Mart’s wounds to heal.  Then they broke him out of jail and fled to New Mexico near Hondo in Lincoln County, during the early days of the so-called Lincoln County War.

There in Lincoln County, brother Ben Horrell died in a shooting on December 1, 1873.  According to local accounts, Ben and two other men were causing a disturbance by being drunk and shooting off their guns in the village of Lincoln, New Mexico.  They were confronted by a local constable by the name of Juan Martinez and several other officers.  One of Ben Horrell’s associates named Dave Warner pulled his sidearm and fatally shot Constable Martinez, though some accounts say Martinez’s assailant was Ben.  The other officers returned fire, killing Warner as Ben Horrell and the other individual escaped.  The pair was quickly captured and killed by the lawmen.  The remaining Horrell brothers responded by killing two local Hispanic residents.  A posse was formed leading to a standoff after which the posse retreated.  Warrants were issued for the remaining Horrells, but they were not captured.  More violence ensued, unquestionably racial in nature, between the Horrells joined by their associates and Hispanic residents of Lincoln County.  After a short time, the Horrells and their associates began to make their way back to Texas.  The events in New Mexico have been referred to as the Horrell War and during it, at least thirteen people, mostly all Hispanic, were killed by the Horrells and their associates.  Racial conflicts involving Hispanics are not usually portrayed to be a major thread of the larger Lincoln County War, but the actions of the Horrell brothers contradict this, as noted above.

The remaining four Horrell brothers returned to Lampasas County where in 1876 they were arrested, tried and acquitted for the murder of Captain Williams.  The next major series of events began when a neighbor, John “Pink” Higgins, accused Merritt Horrell of stealing a calf.  However, a newspaper account describes it as having occurred in the fall roundup when a cow from the Higgins herd was suckling a calf from the Horrell herd.  Regardless of the exact facts, bad feelings continued after a shouting match.  Merritt was tried but found not guilty of cattle theft but Pink Higgins was said to have vowed to seek revenge.  Later Pink Higgins shot and killed Merritt in Scott’s saloon, possibly the same saloon where the state police shootout had occurred in 1873.  Texas Rangers, now back in force, attempted to arrest Higgins, but could not locate him.  Higgins and another man (Higgins’ brother in law) named Bob Mitchell were eventually arrested for the murder of Merritt Horrell.  However, there was a burglary at the court house and some of the documents were “lost.”  Higgins was not tried and reports were that Merritt Horrell’s killing was ruled to be in self defense.  There was one more incident in June of 1877 when a gunfight between the Horrell and Higgins parties occurred in the town square at Lamapasas.  A number of individuals other than the Horrells and Higgins were killed or wounded.

Both sides were persuaded to surrender in an arrangement promoted in 1877 by Ranger Major John B. Jones.  After this, the Higgins-Horrell violence appeared to die down.  Around 1878, Tom and Mart Horrell were arrested for the murder of an elderly shopkeeper west of Waco.  During their confinement in the Meridian, Texas jail, a mob estimated to number three hundred people overpowered the local lawmen and shot Tom and Mart to death.  Their bodies were brought back to Lampasas for burial.  It is believed that the remaining Horrell brother, Sam, moved to Oregon and later to California where he later died and was buried in 1936.  Higgins also moved away and was known to have worked for various ranches until he died in 1914.

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10 thoughts on “The Horrell Brothers”

      1. Very interesting. If Wanda Tallent sees this and consents, maybe she could post it on social media somewhere. My great great grandfather might have known them or known of them when he lived in Lampasas County.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In spite of the Lampasas area being known for being somewhat of rough and rowdy during those years, my relatives must have liked it. A number of my great aunts and uncles were born there. And when they moved further north, some of their extended family may have stayed behind until they died.

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      3. betsyrandolph, do you know more about the story of the Apache attack in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, where Sam Horrell, Sr. was killed. All I could find was that they were heading to California when the attack occurred. Sam and maybe others in the famly were killed leaving Elizabeth in charge of all the children. She took them back to Lampasas, but there aren’t a lot of details, at least that I could find, about the attack.

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      4. I’m sorry, I have little additional information. On there was an article which said Tom and John’s wife held off the attacking party at San Augustine Pass while someone else went for help. But the fight was over before the aid arrived. The raiding Indians stole some of their cattle and belongings and fled. Then Elizabeth and the remaining Horrells went back to Lampasas.

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  1. Not to excuse the conduct, but placing the conduct of these young men in context seems fair. They lost their eldest brother William (Bill) in the Civil War. He just never returned. Then the family tried to relocate with 5,000 head of cattle from Lampasas to California. The second oldest brother John Horrell (my 3rd great grandfather) was murdered by a trail hand in a dispute over wages. The family decided to turn around and head back to Lampasas, but were waylaid by Apaches in Las Cruses. They tried to shelter at Shed Ranch. My great great grandmother Sarah Ann Grizzell Horrell (wife of John who was just murdered) fought the apaches along side her husband’s brothers. During the attack, Sam Horrell Sr (the Horrell brother’s father) was killed by the apaches. All 5000 head of cattle were lost. The family returned to Lampasas where Sarah Ann opened a campground for men traveling north on the Goodnight Loving Trail. The remaining “Horrell Brothers” descended into alcoholism and crime, blazing their way through the Lincoln Wars and Horrell Higgins Feud. Only one brother out of 7 survived.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comments. I really appreciate it. I had tried to find out more about the Apache attack but was not able to find much on it. Our great grandfather also lived in or around Lampasas around the time that the Horrell family did but we have not found out much more about them during that time period either.


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