Monthly Archives: January 2012

Forestburg Bank Robbery of 1931

George Wylie, served as the First State Bank of Forestburg president. Photo courtesy of the Forestburg Historical Society

Bank robberies reached an all time high during the 1930s.  Gangsters such as Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone were household names across the nation.  But many lesser known men and women turned to a life a crime during this time as well.  The very difficult times of the economic depression of the 30s probably played a part in these well publicized crime sprees.  Desperate times called for desperate measures for some.  The big cities were not the only targets of the gun packing crews.  Rural areas were at risk as well.

Current picture of the First State Bank of Forestburg. Photo courtesy of the Forestburg Historical Society.

The bank was organized in 1917.  One of the first presidents was a gentleman named George Wylie.  As far as records show it served the community well without any problems until a cold winter day in 1931.

On 20 February 1931 business was being conducted as usual at the small town bank.  Bookkeeper Pryor McGee and Cashier E B Neeley were performing their day-to-day banking duties.  Customers came and went.  Locals A M (Marvin) Dunn and Barney Brogdon were both inside the bank on that Friday afternoon when the criminal element, so prevalent during this time, touched the small, peaceful town of Forestburg.

Siblings Barney and Ova Brogdon. Photo courtesy of the Forestburg Historical Society.

Brogdon’s sister, Ova, opted to wait for her brother in the car parked in front of the bank.  Two armed, unmasked men entered the bank.  The bandits were later described as “being between 25 and 30 of medium build and wearing striped unionalls.”  One gunman lined the occupants up against the wall at gun point while the other loaded their bags with the cash.  Then the robbers forced Neeley, McGee, Brogdon and Dunn into the vault and locked them in as they made their escape with $2952.28 from the bank’s coffers.

When  the crime was discovered, the authorities asked Ova, who was still waiting in the car, if she thought it was unusual that her brother had not come out of the bank in a timely manner.  She responded that she didn’t think much of it at the time, but did state she found it odd when two men ran by with guns and carrying bags.

In May, Frank Britton was arrested in Wichita Falls for the robbery.  Britton implicated his partner and crime, Lee B Lovell.   Both men were brought to Montague County for trial.  Britton received 35 years for the crime, Lovell received 7-10 years.  Britton also received an additional twenty years for the bank robberies in Boyd and Loving.

The bank had been privately insured and all but $700 of the stolen loot was recovered.  This however, was not enough to save the bank when the bank examiner visited after the robbery.  It was appalled to find that there were no paved roads leading in or out of Forestburg, that there was no police presence in town and they it was served by only one phone line.  He was amazed that his firm was insuring such a high risk investment.  The First State Bank of Forestburg was eventually forced to merge with the bank in Saint Jo.

The bank building is still proudly standing in Forestburg today.  It is the meeting place of the Forestburg Historical Society and a museum.  The historical society meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 7pm for those who have an interest in Forestburg and Montague county history.   Currently the museum is open during the Watermelon Festival and by appointment.

All Trails Lead to Montague County

Well, perhaps not all trails lead to Montague County, but throughout history several have laid tracks through this area.  Each marking and shaping what Montague County would eventually become.  In 1882, the railroad laid the first tracks in Montague County.  Between 1867 and 1884 several hundred thousand longhorns passed through Montague County as the Chisholm Trail funneled across the Red River.  The Butterfield Overland Mail Route crossed the corner of the county on its short-lived existence between 1848-1869.  Even before that Marcy’s California Trail of 1849 (which Highway 82 follows today in several instances)  and the Texas Santa Fe Exposition in 1841 trekked across Montague County.  The earliest organized trail that traversed our county was the one laid out by the Chihuahua Trade Expedition

In 1839 and 1840, the Chihuahua Trading Expedition wound its way back to Mexico through Montague County.  The expeditions purpose was to open trade between Mexico and the United States via a less circular trail than the established trial through St Louis, Santa Fe and El Paso.  It was organized by Henry Connelly.  Connelly was a physician hailing from Missouri and a prominent merchant in Chihuahua.  The group consisted of Connelly and a party of 150 men.  With a bankroll of between 200,000 and 300,000 specie, the party left Chihuahua on 2 April 1839.  They traveled northeast to the Rio Grande, on to the headwaters of the Colorado and Brazos rivers.  They accidentally followed the Canadian River, thinking it was the Red River, for some distance, but eventually found their bearings and followed the Mighty Red downriver.  They crossed into Indian Territory at the mouth of the Wichita.  With the guidance of a Delaware Indian band, the party arrived at Fort Towson.

Fort Towson was a frontier military outpost for the Frontier Amy Quartermaster.  It was located approximately two miles northeast of the present day community of Fort Towson, OK and about seventy miles east of Fort Washita.  From Fort Towson, the expedition traveled on to Arkansas where Connelly boarded a steamship to Louisiana in order to trade his gold and silver from merchandise.

On the return trip, the caravan  included between sixty and eighty new wagons loaded with goods.  Also joining the group was a troupe of American equestrian circus performers transporting tents and various equipment in order to entertain in Mexico.  The return route passed from Fort Towson into North Texas, through present day Red River, Lamar, Fannin, Grayson, Cooke Montague, Clay and Archer Counties.  The party passed Paris and Bonham, dipped south of Sherman through Whitesboro, north of Gainesville and Muenster and into what is now the town of Saint Jo. The group then headed northward between Montague and Nocona where they encountered muddy prairies that impeded their progress for about five weeks.  Unfavorable weather caused problems throughout the trip.

Eventually they hit their original trail and traveled south to the Rio Grande, where once again they were met by difficulty.  They spent forty-five days negotiating tariffs in order to cross back into Mexico.  Governor Jose Irigoyen who had promised a cut-rate on the tax had died before Connelly and his crew returned.  The new regime requested full payment.

They reached Chihuahua 27 August 1840, some sixteen months after they set out on the voyage.  The route was not repeated due to unfavorable reports of the trail and the excessive tariffs.

Although this particular trail was only blazed once, other adventurous souls were not to far behind in making their way to Montague County.

The Old Jail and Outlaws

On November 26, 1927 Montague County commissioners contracted with Southern Prison Company to build a new jail building, the third such building for the county.  At a cost of $34,000, the building was completed July 11, 1927.  The building stands on the southeast corner of the courthouse square.  For 53 years it served as the county jail.  After the new jailhouse was built in 1980, this old building was seldom used except for storage.  In 1996, the Montague County Historical Commission gained permission to use the building as the group’s meeting place.  It is now opened to the public as a museum.

Old Jail. Photo courtesy of Max Brown.

The outside dimensions of the building are approximately 39 feet long by 28 feet wide.   The layout of the jail consisted of jail cells upstairs and living quarters downstairs.  throughout its use, the Sheriff and family occupied the downstairs portion as their home.  The living area contained two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen.  There was one other room that was used as an additional bedroom or dining room, depending on the size of the family.   Four adult and two juvenile cells made up the jail portion.  The adult cells were nine by eight feet in size, each having four metal bunks bolted to the walls.  The juvenile cells measured eight by eleven feet, each with two bunks.  A total of sixteen adults and four juvenile offenders could be housed at any given time.

Jail cell photo courtesy of Max Brown

At least eleven sheriffs and their families made the jail their home during their terms.  These sheriffs were John W Wales, R T Anderson, Lee A Husband, Herman Chandler, Kate Chandler, Dick Lawrence, Bedford Henley, Helen Henley, J L Jameson, J T Lindsey, Howard Middleton and W F Conway.  Both Kate Chandler and Helen Henley finished their husband’s term when they died while still holding office.
The Old Jail is certainly one of those “if these walls could talk” buildings.  Oh, the stories they could tell.  These sturdy cells held criminals that had committed crimes ranging from drunkenness to murder.  Other  offenses included theft, bootlegging, forgery, and insanity. Some notorious outlaws called the Old Jail home, even men associated with the Barrow gang of Bonnie and Clyde fame.

Floyd Hamilton (left) and Ted Walters (right) Photo courtesy of Frank Ballinger

In 1938, known associates of the Barrow gang, Floyd Hamilton and Ted Walters were arrested in Montague County for burglarizing the W W Gilmore drugstore in Ringgold.  The duo had stolen about a hundred dollars in inventory and $15 in cash.  They were incarcerated along with horse thief Ervin Goodspeed.  Together these three plotted a jail break on April 30, 1938.  On that night the only jailer on duty was the twenty-three old son of Sheriff Kate Chandler, Kenneth Chandler.  When Kenneth went upstairs to the jail cells to deliver cheese and crackers to the inmates, he was ambushed.  Goodspeed had managed to cut his cell bars and was waiting for the jailer as he approached.  He stabbed Kenneth in the leg with a pair of scissors.  It is believed that Goodspeed stole the scissors from the barber when he visited to the jail to give the inmates haircuts.  After stabbing the jailer, Goodspeed unlocked the cells of Hamilton and Walters.  Once downstairs, the trio offered to dress the jailer’s wound, but he refused.  They then helped themselves to jail’s arsenal, taking three shotguns and two pistols and disappeared into the night.  Goodspeed was caught in Nocona within a couple of days.  After stealing a car, Hamilton and Walters led law enforcement across a tri-state area on a massive man hunt.  They were both eventually captured in August of 1938.  Hamilton was eventually  sent to Alcatraz.  He survived a botched escape attempt from the famous island prison.  He was released in the late 1950s and live the life of a model citizen in the Dallas area until his death in 1986.  Walters spent the next few years in and out of prison.  He apparently managed to skip by under the radar of the law enforcement until he is shot and killed by a Texas Ranger in 1971.

Ervin Goodspeed (center)

Another jail escape occurred in 1941.  Rex Beard, Jr found himself housed within the confines of the Montague County jail for robbing the  banks in Nocona and in Bowie.  Due to his method of carrying  a paper sack into the bank with which to conceal his weapon as well as to  carry out his stolen loot, he became known as the Paper Sack Bandit.  He escaped from the Old Jail, but was caught in Wichita Falls after another robbery.  Beard was responsible for robberies across the state including theaters, banks, department stores and liquor stores.  One newspaper article described his antics as “the Paper Sack Bandit has so many prison sentences officers are not certain how long it would take him to serve them.”  While waiting sentencing in Abilene he attempted another escape.  In the process, he killed Deputy Sheriff Wade Willis.  During the gunfight, Beard was critically injured.  He survived these injuries, but was given the death sentence for his crime.  He was executed by the State of Texas in  September of 1943.
Today the Old Jail stands a memorial to all of those in law enforcement that served Montague County with pride.  It is now known as the Old Jail Museum.  It is opened Fridays from 12:00 – 5:00 pm and on Saturday from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm.
There is more to the stories of Hamilton, Walters, Goodspeed and Beard.  I hope to add more posts this week under the ‘More of the Story’ section.  To learn more about the Barrow gang and Bonnie and Clyde, visit Frank Ballinger’s website.

Red River Station

Long before it was the jumping off point of the Chisholm Trail, the area that became known as Red River Station had been well traveled for thousands of years.  Near the junction of Salt Creek and the Red River, the mighty Red makes a distinct bend to the north.  This natural detour pushes the current to the south bank creating a favorable crossing point.  This crossing was used for centuries by huge herds of buffalos, Native Americans and much later by hundreds of thousands of Texas Longhorns.

Map courtesy of Tales N Trails Museum

In 1857, a few families tried to push the envelope of the frontier and settle in the area.  They were pushed back by raiding Indians.  But by 1860 they had managed to fend off the hostile attacks and put down roots and build a few structures.  Some these adventurous souls were the Grayson, Cardwell, Boren and Quillan families.

In July and August of 1861 the Texas authorities sent a company of State Troopers or Rangers under the command of Captain Brunson to help defend against the continuing advances of the disgruntled Indians.  The camp or station was first known as Camp Brunson.  By December of 1862, the company had undergone a reorganization placing Captain John Rowland in charge.  It is estimated that approximately fifty families sought refuge within the confines of the stockade.

Shortly before being reassigned to south Texas in 1864, Rowland compiled a roster of his company.  The following men were listed:

Captain John T Rowland; 1st Lt S J Chapman; 2nd Lts WD Hevard and JR Giddens; 1st Sgt TD Pollard; Sgts GW Campbell, JH Christal, TJ Gregory; 1st Corp Freeland Collins; Corps WH Burns and JB Heyner; Buglers WR Campbell and Solomon Collins; Farrier CA Wolldridge; Privates JO Alexander, David Argo, JF Barlow, AL Brunson, JN Branham, Miles Bond, JWH Bailey, BA Brown, Thomas Crawford, Josheph Campbell, Rolin Christal, JT Cates, WC Crow, William Colvin, Isaiah Cook, WR Chapman, TB Christal, John Campbell, R Davidson, JW Emerson, JA Edward, TB Emerson, William Fanning, EP Freeman, JM Gibson, L Grayson, Joseph Gregory, Wm Grundy, HW Houston, JM Hamilton, RP Hutson, JR Hudson, John Higgin, Wm Harper, Wm S Hutson, JM Hoard, Hugh Ivey, JJ Jones, EM Kelly, Wm Lackey, Henry Lackey, Wm Lewis, GW Lemons, Mr Marquis, SGS McGarroh, EW  McCampbell, TA Morgan, WB Martin, WT Martin, WH Merents, Jese Porter, RC Porter, Geo Westly Pearce, Geo Washington Pearce, JH Patterson, JT Peak, WM Priest, Wm Pearce, JW Redman, CT Riley, WR Strong, BN Strohan, Daniel Stennett, R Sullivant, Cyrus Strong, LI Varden, AH Wheeler, JM White, Felix Walker, David White, Johnson Wadil, ML Webster, AJ White, JM Witten, Wm Wilbern; Discharged JM Redman, HF Myers and William Harvey; Died GW Eakin

Not too long after Rowland’s exodus, the Chisholm Trail was in full swing.  The trail lead to Kansas from all points in Texas, herding longhorn cattle to market.  The feeder trails in Texas converged along the way creating a funnel effect by the time it reached the Red River in Montague County.  The first herds crossed at Red River Station in 1867.  By 1870, it was the prominent crossing.

It is difficult to imagine what the area must have been like during the heyday of the Chisholm Trails.  The dust, not to mention the odor, caused by thousands of milling cattle must have been intense at times.  The Red River has always been a temperamental beast, sometimes smooth as silk and a furious raging swell at others.

Mark Withers was a cowboy that traveled the Trail on more than one occasion.  In his later years, he wrote down some of his memories of the time.  He described one exceptional incident that occurred at Red River Station in 1871.

It had been raining for days  when “We came up west of Gainesville and had just  crossed into Montague County when we began to hear cattle bellering.  It was far off, but it never stopped.  It was like a wall of sound, two or three miles wide.  It continued through the night and grew louder as we drove on north the next day.  By landmarks I recognized, I knew that with conditions normal we were still two days from Red River Station.  In the afternoon, we saw cattle ahead of us, two or three big herds, and by the way they were spread out we knew they were being held.  We stopped where we were and I rode on alone to find out how bad the situation was. I knew it must be the river that was holding things up, but wasn’t prepared for what i saw and was told.  Some wild estimates put the number of cattle concentrated there at 75,000.  I believe 60,000 would be more accurate.”

He goes on to describe the scene when he reached the Red River.”The litter of heavy brush and broken trees sweeping by gave you the feeling that, for hundreds of miles, everything that grew or lay along both the North Fork and the Prairie Dog Town Fork had been plucked out by the roots and sent swirling and bobbing down river, leaving both branches of the Upper Red scoured clean.”

The next day the rain stopped.  Several anxious cattlemen attempted to cross the swollen river.  At least two human lives were lost as were several dozen head of cattle.   So, the wait continued.

Mr Withers described the chaos that ensued, “Two nights later, with the weather continuing fine, a herd got up and started to run.  It carried another herd with it.  It was only the beginning.  In no time at all they were all running and milling.  It was after daylight before we got them held, and we had a tangle of cattle and brands on our hands that would be hard to describe. In my person experience, I never knew a man on the ground being ran over by a longhorn, but when a steer went down in a jam like that he seldom got up.  We all had losses that night, some of them pretty heavy.  The only way we could unsnarl that mass of cattle was to go to work as though we were on a roundup, everyone cutting out his own stuff and holding his cut at a safe distance.  It took us ten days to get them straightened out.  When it was our turn to cross the river, it was mill pond.”

1870 townsite map courtesy of Tales N Trails Museum

As with any new enterprize, the law of supply and demand soon became apparent.  Several business were established to aid the influx of cattle men that traveled up the Chisholm Trail. Between 1870 and 1871 at least twelve blocks containing over 100 lots were sold.  A post office was established under the name of Salt Creek.  The first post master was LN Perkins.  Among the first registered voters were Montague county pioneers, Henry Heaton, Alexander Boren, Isaac Boren, J M Grayson, and Tom Cardwell.  The name was changed to Red River Station in 1884.About a half a mile west of town, Henry Heaton ran a chain ferry.  Heaton was described as “a veteran freighter without any previous knowledge of the river.  He was further handicapped by a wooden leg.  He was a cantankerous individual who ran his ferry to suit himself, the tolls he charged rising and falling with the various stages of the river.”  Others who were said to run the ferry after Heaton included Miles Yates, Rev WP Fitts and John Gilbreath.JS Love and his wife Mollie purchased lots 10 and 11 in block one of the new town.  They built a two-story hotel.  It is said that Mollie was known my every cowboy on the trail.  Her kindness was documented in several letters home.  She was known to feed the hungry regardless of their ability to pay.  She often nursed the sick back to health as well.Other businesses that were established included Tom Pollard’s Saloon and Trading Post, WS Thurston’s General Mercantile, several blacksmiths and leather repair shops.A school was formed in the basement of JM Grayson’s home.   Even after a building for the school was erected, it was always known as the Grayson School.  Circuit preachers traveled to Red River Station to spread the gospel, meeting in different homes in town.Red River Station’s demise can be attributed to three different, but equally devastating events.  First, the end of the Chisholm Trail.  As the railroads made further advances across the frontier, the need to drive them to market became obsolete.  The seasonal influx of cattlemen through Red River Station dwindled.  The second event was Mother Nature in full force.  In the early 1880’s the small town was severely damaged by a tornado.  It destroyed several of the businesses in town.  With the decline of patrons already in effect, several businesses chose not to rebuild.  The final event, that lead Red River Station to the ghost town category, was the decision by the rail road to bypass it as a stop, chosing Nocona instead.

Historical Marker placed by State of Texas in 1963. Photo courtesy of Tales N Trails Museum

Today there isn’t much left of old Red River Station.  The cemetery, which had been neglected for decades, has been reclaimed and cleaned up.  Over the years, two historical markers have been placed in vicinity Red River Station. One by the state of Texas the other by the Boy Scouts.  In 2010, a Chisholm  Trail marker was also placed, with the hope that the importance of Red River Station to Texas history will always be remembered.