Roger Mills County



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Landrunners and early homesteaders had led interesting lives before they arrived here….


James C. Dobbs, born in 1855 and his next youngest brother, Garrett Hunt “Kid” Dobbs, born in 1857 were the fifth and sixth children of nine total born to J.W. Dobbs and Elizabeth Creech Dobbs in Panola County, Texas. Panola County is located on the Louisiana line west of Shreveport. Their father was killed during what Kid called the “Nigger War” and left the mother with a large family.  Kid started working cows when he was twelve years old and also moon-shining and catching wild cattle. Two years later he left his mother in Falls County, where they had moved.

 At the age of 19, Kid was with an uncle on the south end of the Chisholm Trail where he found work on a trail herd and ended up in Dodge City. During the travel to Dodge City, Kid rode his horse across the Pease River 23 times in one afternoon trying to get wild cattle across. His boss said that he was the youngest, the best cowhand, the best rider, the best roper that ever went up the trail.  Kid was short of stature and really stout for his weight—about 150 pounds.  He was at Dodge City when he got his leg broken in a roping accident in the remuda when another cowboy threw an errant loop which got Kid hurt. The leg was set by an Army Doctor at Ft. Dodge without chloroform. He spent two months in the Ft. Dodge Hospital and when released he traveled to Hugo, CO  and from there took a mess wagon back to Ft. Griffin on the south plains. Jim and Kid then went buffalo hunting with an outfit until Jim and Kid bought it out in 1876. Once when asked how long it would take for Kid to skin a buffalo cow, he said he could do it in ten minutes. The man who made the inquiry said he was willing to bet he could do it in five minutes. He had timed Kid from the time he first put the knife to the animal until he had it loaded in the wagon---four and one-half minutes.

Kid and Jim knew the plains country like a book and they knew cattle.


 While working cattle on the south plains, Kid and Jim were offered jobs with an LS wagon which was hunting stray cattle. They followed the LS wagon north to the LS headquarters on the Canadian River at Tascosa. They rode line until just before Christmas of 1878. A young man with a small band of followers came to the LS Ranch to sell some horses. They spent the night at the LS headquarters, the next day, Kid and Jim rode into Tascosa with Billy the Kid and his gang. Billy was the war captain for Jim Chism the Cattle King on the Pecos River. Jim Chism had a herd of cattle thirty miles above Tascosa. They were located here as a result of the settlement of the Lincoln County War. Billy the Kid came with him as his horse wrangler. 

While working at the LS, Kid was offered $125 per month to take a herd through to Montana. This is one of nine herds sent to Montana that summer. Because this was a difficult drive, involving loading on a train, and then driving them again, Kid turned down the good offer. Later there was a cowboy strike at the LS Ranch. Kid was threatened if he didn’t quit his job and join the strikers. Kid said that he was a free man and worked for whomever he pleased and continued working.

Kid Dobbs had a gun which Billy the Kid wanted. Billy the Kid offered  a wild five year old mare for the gun even up, if Dobbs could ride the mare. Dobbs rode her for five saddles before she ever pitched and that was in the Canadian River when a log ran into her. She made a fine horse.   A few days later, Billy the Kid said he would give Kid Dobbs a fine white horse which had a bad cut, if Dobbs would clean him up and get him well. This he did and the horse was as good a cutting horse as ever rode in a roundup. Jim Dobbs then took a job on the Pecos in NM and Kid got a job with Jim Campbell, hunting deer and antelope for food for his sheep outfit. Campbell felt this was cheaper than feeding a sheep a day and also more variety.

Prior to 1879, Mexican sheep ranchers had settled down the Canadian River from the New Mexico line. They had built a series of plazas near the river where they settled with their families. The fourth plaza down was the Vorregos Plaza on the south side of the river just below Tascosa.  Vorregos Plaza was quite a Mexican plaza with several buildings on it. With the new lease law in effect in 1879, the Mexican ranchers were bought out and the plazas were abandoned. The country was surveyed and sectionized in 1879. With the Mexican ranchers gone, Kid Dobbs filed a claim on the 160 acres where Vorregos Plaza was located. He and Jim lived here with their families for fourteen years.

In 1879, Kid rode a mail line daily from Trujillo to Fort Bascom, New Mexico and back the next day. A distance of sixty miles which he covered in twelve hours. It was a fifty-nine hour ride from Mobeetie to Fort Bascom, a distance of two hundred miles. He once rode 170 miles on a straight ride changing horses several times. This was because of one rider was sick and the other didn’t show. During the thirteen months that he rode for the mail line, he rode two horses to death. Kid said this was a poor arrangement with the government in that sometimes he would carry only one postcard.

In 1881 Kid was married to Lena Atkins, the half-Mexican daughter of John Atkins of Red River Springs, located on the Canadian River in New Mexico. They were married in the Casimero Romero home by Judge Jim McMasters.  John Atkins had also been a freighter and Indian fighter.

Tascosa was a rough cowboy town with a reputation approaching that of Dodge City. Because of disagreements between large and small ranchers and their cowhands, the difficulty developed into what has been called “The Big Fight”. This was a running gun battle on the streets of old Tascosa in which five men were killed. Jim Dobbs, who was living nearby, said he heard at least 150 shots fired. The next day, fifty-five LS cowboys were in town. Kid rode guard for Mr. McAlister, the manager of the LS as the victims were buried on Boot Hill.  At the time of the Big Fight, Kid was twelve miles up the river in charge of a LS wagon (round-up crew).

Billy the Kid became a horse and cattle thief in 1884. The Governor of Texas authorized the ranger force, headed by Pat Garrett, to work out of Tascosa to stop the  cattle stealing, changing brands and to recover stolen cattle. Kid Dobbs was a part of that Ranger Force. He witnessed several shootings in and around Tascosa and prevented several others. Kid was a highly respected law officer.

 Kid helped build a railroad bridge across the South Canadian at Tascosa.

When the cattle ranchers moved their herds onto the plains after the destruction of the huge buffalo herds, they were faced with a menace in the form of packs of Lobo Wolves.  These large wolves had proliferated greatly by following the buffalo, taking an animal any time their hunger dictated.  Now with the buffalo gone, the wolves turned to the cattle herds to satisfy their appetite. After suffering unacceptable losses, the ranchers persuaded the authorities to do something to exterminate the wolves.  The minutes of the Potter County Commissioners Court for 1891 and 1892 show that the court paid numerous individuals bounty money for wolf scalps brought in.  Jim and Kid Dobbs were among those listed. Jim was paid $32 for five lobo wolves, three small wolves, and one wildcat.  Kid was paid $31 for scalps. 

In her book “In the Cattle Country”, Della Tyler Key writes that J. W. Dobbs was among those ranchers who had large herds of 5,000 to 60,000 head of cattle that were shipped by rail from Amarillo.  I doubt that Jim had enough time from 1878 to 1888 to have acquired this number of cattle, when part of that time he was working for other larger ranches.  There is hardly any doubt that he did considerable “maveriking” as did most everyone who got a start in the Texas panhandle. 

Della Tyler Key also provided a list of settlers who acquired Texas school lands in 1887.  J. W. Dobbs was on that list.  In 1892, G. H. Dobbs and J. W. Dobbs were on a list as having their property assessments [in this case cattle] increased. 

Because large ranches wanted to control all the range, they made it hard on the small ranchers to get a toe-hold. The Dobbs brothers raised the ire of the large ranches by filing on pieces of land which the large ranches had overlooked. The large ranches would then have to come and buy out the Dobbs. The large ranches involved were the LS, LX, T-Anchor, Frying Pan and Prairie Cattle Company. They all paid a pro rata share in order to get rid of the Dobbs Brothers. They filed 45 indictments against Kid and Jim. Temple Houston was the lawyer for the big ranches. Red Tom O’Hare, a Ranger, served an arrest warrant on Jim Dobbs. After Jim was arrested and disarmed, Red Tom whipped Jim three times before he got him to the jail. Jim would have been killed had not a friend named Sullivan intervened. Later Kid Dobbs faced down Red Tom at a saloon and also Jim’s friend, Sullivan did the same.  Red Tom had previously killed a Negro in Amarillo, two women in Texas and later an Indian at Cheyenne, OK. He was a dangerous man.  Kid and Jim were held in the Amarillo jail with the door open.  One night, the sheriff came in, closed the door and locked the combination lock. Next morning, Jim had to give the Sheriff the combination so he could open it. You see Jim had been a jailer prior to this happening. 

At their trial, the only witness that the large ranches had was an escaped Mexican convict. When this was discovered, the Dobbs were dismissed as were all the indictments. One of the latter indictments to be dismissed was one for selling beef without a license and illegal storing of beef at the Mark Snyder residence. Mrs. Snyder was on her deathbed and the family with four kids was destitute. Kid Dobbs thought that would be a good place to store a quarter of beef. Mr. Snyder was on the grand jury which dismissed the indictments.

          In 1893, Kid Dobbs homesteaded in Oklahoma, moving to an acreage six miles northwest of Cheyenne on the Washita River. They moved with five kids and five more were born at Cheyenne. Kid lived on this homestead for twenty years before moving  to New Mexico. He sold this homestead to a Mr. Meeks who in turn sold it to Henry Hawkins and Leland and Bernice Burns now own this land.

          Jim Dobbs came to Oklahoma about the same time. After living near Butler and farming/ranching for about 10 years he served as Sayre City Marshall for several years. While serving in that capacity, he killed two men in related shootings two years apart. While awaiting trial, he owned a meat market in Cheyenne and his wife, Sally, operated a café.  He was sentenced to fifteen years but after serving six years, he was released by the court.  He lived in a tent outside the walls of McAlister and was allowed to cook for himself.  Sam Doxey was killed when Jim tried to arrest him at Sayre for drunken behavior. Two years later, W.M. Branch, friend of Doxey’s, was killed during a scuffle. Branch was still harboring ill feelings at the loss of his friend and tried to cause trouble for Jim.

Kid stated that he always tried to do more for other people than for himself. Jim bought from John Stahl the Star Meat Market and operated it for a period of time; this was while he was out on bond. Later Stahl and Dobbs traded properties in Sayre in Cheyenne. My grandparents, Eva and Elbert Tracy were married in the home of Jim and Sallie Dobbs, as Sallie was Eva’s Aunt. Jim Dobbs’ daughter, Claudia married Horace Gaither, who served as  Amarillo City Marshall for many years. Their son, Paul Gaither, served as Potter County Sheriff for 10 years during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  One of Kid Dobbs’ daughters, Molly, remained in Cheyenne after she married Poodle Burnett. Sheriff Paul Gaither would occasionally travel to Roger Mills County to visit his relatives and one time told me a story of his cousin’s husband, Poodle, being a bootlegger. He said that people would leave Cheyenne headed south in their old cars on Highway 283 and a lot of the automobiles would “get hot” about the top of the long hill where Poodle and Mollie lived. They would go to the house to get some water. Poodle would have to go to the creek west of the highway to get a pail of water and upon returning, in the pail would be found a quart of home brew.  When I heard this story as a child, I though this was ironic for the fact that the storyteller, who had knowledge of these facts, was a sheriff. Of course, Sherriff Gaither had no jurisdiction in Oklahoma. 

                In 1902, when Sheriff Bullard was killed, Jim and Sallie Dobbs were living in present day Custer County, somewhere around Butler. The day of the killing, Jim was gone away from the house and Sallie and the kids were home alone. Two men rode fast and hard  from the west to the house and demanded that Sallie prepare something for them to eat, which she did. One of the men kept watching out the door to the west all the time they were there. Later it was assumed that these were two of the men who had killed Sheriff Bullard and his Deputy Cogburn. The family story speculates that had Jim been at home that day, things might have been different for these outlaws when they rode up to his house.

     While living on his farm/ranch near Butler, Oklahoma during period 1895-1905, Jim Dobbs was visited by an old friend, Jim Gober, who had been the first sheriff elected in Potter County, Texas, and had known Jim and Kid Dobbs while they all were living at Amarillo.  Gober had his share of troubles in keeping law and order in a country ruled by big ranches. As a result, his term as sheriff did not last long.  He and the Dobbs brothers were known for doing what was right, but were constantly battled by the owners of the large ranches who wanted things run their way.

     When Jim Gober dropped by the farm of his old friend, he was working as a cattle detective for an insurance company.  A herd of cattle had been stolen from near Butler, and it was determined that the rustlers had headed south with them, taking them into Texas.  Gober enlisted the help of Jim Dobbs to trail the cattle and to keep the detective informed by telegraph of their whereabouts.  Meanwhile, Gober was go by train to a location down in Texas, well in advance of the cattle herd.  When the herd was located Gober would rent a horse and meet Dobbs and they would make the arrests.  There were several armed rustlers and caution needed to be exercised by the lawmen in order to make the arrests without any gunplay being involved.  The two lawmen were successful in capturing the rustlers after trailing them some two hundred miles to a point in Kent County, Texas.  Arrangements were made for selling the cattle near where they were found rather than hire someone to trail them all the way back to Butler.