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 English Texas Ranger & Cattleman—With the Border Ruffians


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558.     WILLIAMS, R[obert] H[amilton]. With the Border Ruffians, Memories of the Far West, 1852-1868, by R.H. Williams, Sometime Lieutenant in the Kansas Rangers and Afterwards Captain in the Texan Rangers, Edited by E.W. Williams, with Portraits. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, W., 1906. [i-iv] v-xiv, [2], xv-xviii, 1-478 pp., 6 photographic plates (including photogravure frontispiece portrait of author). 8vo (22.5 x 15.5 cm), original red pictorial cloth, title in gilt on spine and upper cover, t.e.g. Endpapers browned, scattered mild foxing, generally a very good copy in a bright binding.

     First British edition. A U.S. edition came out the same year. Adams, Guns 2411: “Deals with life during the lawless days of Kansas and Texas.” Adams, Herd 2528: “Scarce.” Graff 4686. Howes W475: “After a lurid frontier apprenticeship in Kansas, this young Englishman ranched in Western Texas and served with the Rangers.” Moses, Lynching and Vigilantism in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography 3383. Nevins, Civil War Books II, p. 248: “Useful for insights of wartime prices and problems in Texas.” Parrish, Civil War Texana 104.

     Englishman R.H. Williams (1831-1907), sailor, “Border Ruffian,” Texas Ranger, Confederate partisan, Indian Fighter, rancher, cattle drover, and the eldest of nine siblings of a Dorchester priest, exhibited an adventuresome, rebellious nature early on, shipping out as a middy to Callao when he was sixteen years of age. In 1852 Williams emigrated to the United States, settling in West Virginia and subsequently in Kansas at a time of great unrest. Soon enough he joined a company of mounted rangers known as “The Border Ruffians” led by a professional gambler. Their goal was to stop the tide of “Free Soilers” pouring into the country under the patronage of the New England Emigrants’ Aid Society; their tactics were violent and questionable. After the “Border Ruffians” were disbanded, Williams specialized in land speculations involving seized lands of the Delaware and Shawnee and worked for Major & Russell as a wagon master freighting material west of the Missouri to forts in Indian Territory. In 1859 Williams made a hasty retreat to England to avoid arrest in Kansas, but soon was back in the U.S., where he met Sam Houston who encouraged him to come to Texas.

     Williams began searching for a ranch to purchase in West Texas, remarking: “It was definitely not a country for timid men or one who was nervous about his scalp.” After scouting the countryside to buy a ranch, he bought a spread for a dollar an acre on Medio Creek about fifteen miles from San Antonio on the road to El Paso, and stocked it with 250 cows and five bulls. Prior to the Civil War, Williams met Robert E. Lee while Lee was still in command of U.S. forces in San Antonio. He describes Lee as “Tall, somewhat spare in figure, with a soldierly bearing that revealed his profession at a glance, he looked what he was, every inch a gentleman. Courteous and dignified in manner, but without the slightest assumption, he was beloved by all who came within the charm of his personal influence. At this time he was about fifty-three years of age, but his dark hair was untinged with grey and his blue eyes were bright and undimmed beneath his black eyebrows.” He also met General Hood (then a Lieutenant), with whom he played cards.

     With unfolding tensions of the Civil War and an attack on U.S. troops in San Antonio early in 1861, Williams cast his lot with the Confederacy as a volunteer and joined Ben McCulloch to oust U.S. forces under Twiggs from San Antonio. Williams rode with the Confederate Cavalry to capture Val Verde, where their booty included eighty camels and two Egyptian drivers. As the Civil War escalated, troops began deserting Texas forts and posts, leaving Texas settlers vulnerable to attacks by Comanche. Williams engaged in many fights with the Comanche and acted as a spy for the Confederates as U.S. troops approached Texas. In 1862 he joined the irregular Texas Confederate military unit of Partisan Rangers, commanded by Scotsman James Duff (see Handbook of Texas Online). He suffered disillusionment with local Texas authorities who exploited patriotism for their selfish ends:

In times of convulsion and strife…in the outlying districts the scum of population rises to the surface, and their corruption and self-seeking are rife. In Texas loud-tongued local no-bodies talked themselves into power and position and used them to rob their suffering country and to defend the soldiers fighting her battles. Captain Duff was one of the worst in his own small way and a cold-blooded murderer. On foot he resembled a bullfrog and on horse back Sancho Panza.

Williams gives a grim eye-witness account of the tragic Battle of Nueces (August 10, 1862) when a company of German Unionists, mostly intellectuals, were massacred at their encampment near Fort Clark as they were attempting to exit Texas to Mexico. Upon return to San Antonio, Williams called for Duff’s resignation and found himself in hot water. He tried to join Hood’s brigade, but instead ended up helping the Confederates with the transport and securing of the cotton so vital to their cause. In 1863, under orders from Governor Pendleton, Williams formed a company to protect the frontier of the upper Rio Grande, assisting Col. Santos Benavides in holding Laredo. In 1864 he was second in command of the expedition to Fort Lancaster to deal with threatening Californians and deserting Confederates.

     At the close of the Civil War, Williams was impoverished due to the devaluation of Confederate money and neglect of his ranch, and attempted to work his way out of that dilemma by running 700 of his cattle to New Orleans. Though he succeeded, he lost his profit in a bad investment, but recouped by making another cattle drive to Mexico (excellent content on Mexico). He earned enough to return to England in 1866, where he married his childhood sweetheart, settled at Tilbury in Essex, and became a large land and property owner. This is a wonderful account, immediate, visceral, and superbly written, in which we see a wild, rebellious young man evolve to question the principles of slavery for which he had fought.


Sold. Hammer: $300.00; Price Realized: $360.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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