The “Big Fight” at Tascosa, Texas, rivals the better-known “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” You want gunplay? Here it is.
Tascosa began as a village near a crossing of the Canadian River, on the road to Dodge City, Kansas. When cattle ranching became a big industry in the Texas Panhandle, Tascosa became a staging point for cattle drives. Like Dodge City, Tascosa was famous for its saloons, prostitutes, and western-style mayhem. Famous old outlaws, even Billy the Kid, walked its streets.
Conflicts developed between the large LS Ranch and a collection of smaller ones known as the “System.” Rustling and brand changing led to near-open warfare. At the request of the LS Ranch, the Texas Legislature appointed Pat Garrett (yes, that Pat Garrett) to recruit a Texas Ranger Troop.
Those Rangers were stationed at the LS Ranch. Violent gunmen, they soon brought an end to rustling. They were a difficult group to handle, and Pat Garrett soon disbanded them and returned to New Mexico. The former Rangers stayed at the LS Ranch. When they visited Tascosa there was sure to be trouble.
Ex-Ranger Ed King, a “bar-room gladiator,” became aggressive when drunk and was quick on the trigger. His demise came when he stole Sally Emory away from her bartender boyfriend, Lem Woodruff. King continued to taunt Lem Woodruff.
One evening in March, 1886, King his friend John Lang rode into Tascosa with two other ex-Rangers. King met Sally Emory on the street outside the Jenkins Saloon. From the shadows someone called to King. When he stepped onto the porch King was shot in the neck. Bartender Woodruff ran out of the saloon to shoot King in the face. King died instantly.
Seeing his friend shot, John Lang ran into the Equity Saloon to gather other LS Rangers. They raced to the rear of the Jenkins Saloon just as bartender Lem and three companions exited – “Squirrel-Eye Charlie,” “Poker Tom,” and “The Catfish Kid.” Gunfire exploded. Lem and “Poker Tom” went down immediately. Ex-Ranger Chilton shot down a local restaurant owner, and was then shot himself by someone hiding behind a woodpile. Dying, Chilton handed his pistol to John Lang.
Lang found himself caught in a crossfire between shots coming from the saloon and the woodpile. He retreated among the fusillade back to the Equity Saloon. Soon the sheriff and his deputy arrived on the scene and stopped the fight.
When they got back to the Jenkins saloon, The Catfish Kid ran from behind the woodpile. A shot rang out and Catfish fell to the ground. But it was a ruse. He managed to sneak away.
John Lang found himself unwounded. One bullet tore through his coat. All those other rounds missed him altogether.
The town of Tascosa itself didn’t survive. Its riverbank soils were too sandy. The Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad took a more southerly route near Amarillo, Texas. Tascosa declined, and at last only a single saloon remained. Tascosa’s last resident was a saloon girl named “Frenchy,” who didn’t leave for Amarillo until 1939. The Boot hill cemetery remains.
May 23, 2018
“The real problem of humanity is that we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval intuitions, and god-like technology.” – E. O. Wilson.