Cowboys vs. Desperados

taken from a letter written by Jay O'Brien to his daughters in October, 1996

Boy, I know you get tired of hearing ranch stories, but I have one for you:   Last Sunday night, there were some folks killing deer south of Clarendon near Brice.   Two game wardens knew they had been spotlighting deer and were trying to catch them.   The game wardens approached and the deer slayers sped away.   However, after a chase, the deer slayers got stuck in a field.   They shot a few times at the game wardens' vehicles and ran off on foot.   When the game wardens pursued, the deer slayers shot again and ran, evading capture.

          Monday morning, every law officer in the country was in on the manhunt.   There were posses on horseback, in helicopters, on four wheelers and in four wheel drive vehicles.   They were going to get the deer slayers.  The breaks of the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River had more law officers than any time since Mackenzie drove Quanah Parker's horses off the edge of Palo Duro Canyon.

          One of our neighbors called his cowboy on the two-way radio and told him about the desperadoes and reminded him to take his keys out of his pickup.   Billy Hollowell heard the conversation and said that he was going to leave his pickup running facing away from the house in case the desperadoes wanted it.  "Let them take the Powerstroke!"

          The law officers had discovered their identities and the desperadoes’ families were broadcasting pleas on radio and television for the desperadoes to turn themselves in.   Unfortunately, there is no radio or television on the prairie or in the canyons of the Palo Duro.

          Monday afternoon, the posse found tracks by Tom Blassingame's camp on Campbell Creek on the JA.   The camp has not been used since Tom died five years ago at the age of 93 (he had a heart attack while riding his favorite horse).   Someone had eaten some beans, which were left at the camp.  Theft was added to the list of crimes.

          Now, all water in this area is gyp.   Gyp water not only tastes bad, but it gives you terrible diarrhea and a stomachache you will never forget. 

          The posse was still hunting on Tuesday, but the desperadoes must have been members of the hole in the wall gang.   They escaped the horses, the four wheelers and the helicopters.

          At four in the afternoon at the peaceful JA headquarters, Powder Horn, a 20 year old cowboy who was brought up at Claude, and Frederick Holgerman, a 21 year old from Sweden who has been living at the JA for six month and working without pay, were working in the shop.   Powder's wife and infant child were in his house as were Carol Jack Lewis's wife Ursula, who was caring for her two small children.

          Powder looked up and saw two men approaching on foot.   He was suspicious that these might be the desperadoes and he eased over to his pickup after warning Frederick.   Frederick moved to another pickup where he had a rifle he uses for shooting wild pigs.   Frederick had some military experience in Sweden, though none with poachers and bean thieves.

          The two men saw Powder and said, "Hey, could you help us?   Someone stole our pickup."  

          Powder never has much to say and has the intelligence not to say it and he reached into the cab of his pickup and pulled out his 30-30.  "I know who you are.   Lie down on the ground or I'll shoot."   Freddy stepped out with his rifle, also pointing at the men and the men laid down.

          Powder and Freddy walked to the men and put their guns to the men's heads. One of the men said, "We are awful hungry.  Do you have an apple or a banana we could have?"  Freddy held his gun on the men without finding some fruit while Powder left to call the sheriff.

          After Powder returned, one of the men, who has been eaten up by insects, reached back to scratch an insect bite on his rear.   Powder, thinking he was reaching for a gun, cocked his rifle, ready to shoot.

          The sheriff made the thirty miles from Claude to the headquarters in fifteen minutes.   Soon, there were a multitude of cars and a helicopter at the ranch.   The desperadoes were cuffed and the atmosphere was excited at the conclusion of the man hunt.

          The foreman, Billy, was returning to the ranch and passed 16 highway patrol cars and sheriff cars coming out of the ranch.   He had heard on his two way radio that two JA cowboys corralled the desperadoes and found out from his wife that no one was hurt in a shoot out.

          By Coogal's drop off (where the Caprock ends with a two hundred foot drop into the canyon and Coogal, years ago lost control of his team and ran a wagon off the side), there were two highway patrol cars stopped with officers on the ground.   Billy asked them what was going on and found that they slid into the cliff on the way into the ranch and they were measuring and filling out an accident report.

          At the ranch, Billy found four more police cars and the helicopter with the cuffed desperadoes being loaded on the helicopter for a scenic tour of the land they have seen only from foot.  

          Today, they are safely behind bars.


Billy Hollowell, ranch manager, and Powder Horn

          The saddest thing is that Carroll Jack, another JA cowboy, loves to tell stories and he loves the old west.   He was off finding strays and the story will never be his to tell.   When I asked Powder yesterday about his adventure, he smiled.  

          Now, I have a vision that Frederick will be sitting with his young daughter in ten years and they will be watching a western on Swedish TV.   Freddy will say, "Did I ever tell you about the year I spent working on a ranch out west in Texas?   One time there were two outlaws..." 

Whoopi, ti, yi, yo...


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