1896 Wichita Falls Bank Robbery

Captain William Jesse “Bill” McDonald was a celebrated Texas Ranger. He was born in Kemper County, Mississippi to Major Enoch McDonald and Eunice R. Durham McDonald. Enoch enlisted in the Confederate Army early in the Civil War. Bill’s father Enoch was killed in battle at Corinth, Mississippi on October 3, 1862, leaving Eunice, Bill (age 10) and his sister Mary Hana who was about three years older than Bill. The family lived on their Mississippi farm until the end of the war. The farm in Mississippi was destroyed during the war and in 1866, the three moved to Texas to be near to one of Bill’s uncles who lived near Henderson in Rusk County.

Before he became a Ranger, he attended and graduated from college (Soule’s Commercial College in Louisiana), after which he held a number of jobs including operating a couple of small grocery stores in East Texas, doing some ranching and serving as a deputy first in Wood County and later in Hardeman County (North Texas) where he had moved.

He served as a Deputy United States Marshal in the Indian Territory from 1887 to about 1891 when he became a Texas Ranger, having been appointed to succeed Captain S. A. McMurry in Company B of the Frontier Battalion. He continued as a Ranger for about the next twenty-six years, at the rank of Captain.

Captain McDonald is remembered for his roles in several well known situations including the Wichita Falls bank robbery of 1896, the Fitzsimmons-Maher prize fight, the Reese-Townsend feud, and the Brownsville Raid of 1906. Captain McDonald went on to a distinguished career as a Ranger, retiring in 1907.

Image credit: Wichita Daily Times, April 9, 1909

One of the incidents in which Captain McDonald was involved, the Wichita Falls bank robbery, might not be as familiar. As recounted in the Wichita Daily Times issue of April 9, 1909, on February 25, 1896 the City National Bank of Wichita Falls was robbed. Over the past several weeks, rumors had circulated that the bank, located downtown at Seventh and Ohio streets would be the target of a holdup. The rumors were so strong and believable that the local authorities had requested the assistance of Texas Rangers. Captain McDonald and ten more rangers were sent to Wichita Falls to investigate and protect the bank if something happened.

Two individuals, Elmer Lewis and Foster Crawford, executed the robbery. Lewis was originally from Missouri and had drifted west to Montana where he became suspected of having committed several crimes including highway robbery, shootings, holdups of gambling joints and the like. Crawford on the other hand came from McLennan County before coming to North Texas. The pair had become acquainted while working on the Burnett Ranch when its headquarters were a bit northwest of Wichita Falls.

Lewis appears to have been the main person to come up with the plan to rob the bank, thinking that it held as much as $250,000 cash in its vaults. Lewis liked the idea that it was a fairly short ride from Wichita Falls to Oklahoma. Lewis had evidently shared his plans with a few people and word reached the bank officers who alerted law enforcement. It is most likely that the robbers knew of the Rangers’ were in the area but decided to execute their plans anyway but bide their time.

Luck temporarily favored Lewis and Crawford, as that afternoon, the Rangers left on a train bound for Fort Worth, no attack seeming imminent. Lewis and Crawford, were aware of the Rangers’ departure and decided to go forward with their plans. After staking out the bank that day, around 2:30 on the afternoon of February 25, 1896, Crawford came in the side entrance to the bank, stopping in front of teller P. P. Langford’s station. Behind the counter cashier Frank Dorsey and Dr. O. J. Kendall, a bank director, were talking. Crawford is said to have yelled “Up! Up!” but Langford, surprised and not fully grasping the situation, did not comply immediately. Crawford took his pistol and struck Langford on the head, and his gun accidentally discharged a round into the ceiling. By that time, Lewis had also entered and had his gun trained on Dorsey and Kendall. Lewis then shot Dorsey in the shoulder. He also shot at Kendall, but the round hit a syringe in the doctor’s vest pocket and did no harm. Kendall fell to the floor as if wounded.

Langford managed to jump over a counter and try to escape. Lewis took several shots at the fleeing teller, striking him once in the hip. As this was going on, Crawford managed to scoop up $460 and change from the teller’s station but though the vault was open, most of the cash appeared to be locked inside a safe.

Outside, a crowd began to gather. Some were armed and others went to look for guns and ammunition. One merchant assumed that there might be a fire, so he opened a window of his store and fired five shots in the air, said to be a local method of notifying others of a fire. By then the robbers had left the bank and a number of citizens were in pursuit. They were joined by Maje Davis, the city marshall. The robbers managed to cross the river at a railroad crossing and escape to the north. They highjacked some farmers and took their plow horses which they rode a short distance until the mounts were winded.

In the meantime, a telegram was sent to Captain McDonald and the southbound Rangers who got off the train at Bellevue and returned to town on the next northbound train, arriving in Wichita Falls in time to join the chase. Members of the volunteer posse managed to surround the suspects in a thicket. Fearing for their lives, Lewis and Crawford said that they would surrender to the Rangers and shortly afterward, McDonald arrived and took them by wagon back to the jail in Wichita Falls. After turning the pair over to local lawmen, the Rangers departed about February 27th.

Cashier Frank Dorsey had died of his wounds. A $2,000 reward had been offered for the capture of the bank robbers. Over half of it was paid to the posse who in turn presented it to Dorsey’s widow. The affair did not end well for Lewis and Dorsey, since after the Rangers left a mob assembled and overpowered the local lawmen, dragged the suspects from the jail and hung them.

Lewis and Crawford are buried in Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls. A single stone is engraved with their names. The victim, cashier Frank Dorsey, is also buried there. Captain McDonald, one of the “Four Great Captains” of the Texas Rangers succumbed to pneumonia on January 15, 1918 while in Wichita Falls. His burial place is in Quanah, Texas.

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