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Mr. Fain, as Glenn Justice reminds us, more needs to be done on the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 in the Big Bend region of Texas. At present, Dr. Paul Wright at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, may be the best resource for obtaining new information. Wright's research into birth and death records in the Big Bend region, taken largely from U. S. Manuscript Census data, reveals much.

As co-author of the recent (2006) book, Cemeteries and Funerary Practices in the Big Bend of Texas, 1850 to the Present, I admit that there is no "definitive work" on the subject, nor is there likely ever to be one; nonetheless, I believe mine and Dr. Gerald G. Raun's book comes a closer than anything to date.

While preparing to draft the text of Cemeteries I advertised in area newspapers for information as well as for people to come forward with information. A few did, but not so many as we would have liked; accordingly nothing was learned about Ben and Viola Pettus; other members of the Pettus family were not only mentioned but their deaths recorded, graves photographed and so forth. Additionally, I interviewed individuals in Marathon about the flu epidemic and other matters and the Ben Pettus's were never mentioned. I suspect those few months in the autumn of 1918 were such a horrid period in life that once it passed, most folk didn't wish to talk about it, or even to remember; after all, families were giving up their dead to passing wagoners for mass burial without funerary honors being rendered. Why? It was much safer to stay indoors. Under the circumstances it was not shameful to do so, either. Yet, in glancing back it may seem a sort of familial betrayal, i. e., something to be put behind.

Cemeteries and Funerary Practices in the Big Bend of Texas, 1850 to the Present does contain a story of self sacrifice in order to fulfill one's duty in caring for the sick. That is the story of Dr. Roy R. Longino, the city health officer and sole physician in Fort Stockton at the time (see pps. 62-3).

Has I known about the "influenza quarantine tent city" south of Marathon and Mrs. Viola Pettus's charitable nursing of the sick at great risk to herself it certainly would have been in the book. What a story! But nobody came forward with it. Que sera.

Glenn Willeford
Chihuahua City, Mexico

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Glenn -- I really like your blog. I am looking for background on a woman named Viola Pettus who is known locally as having been the "nurse" at the influenza quarantine tent city just south of Marathon during the 1918 outbreak of "Spanish flu". Her husband Ben was a well-known cowboy. Viola may have been one of those early frontier nurses that made up for lack of formal training with guts and compassion. A friend who is a nurse/researcher is interested in determining if there is enough available material to piece together the story of her sacrifice in 1918.
Any leads will be appreciated including pictures, records, letters, descendents, photos etc Ben and Viola appear on headstones in the Marathon cemetery - close to the dividing line between the Anglos and "Mexican" sections. There were a number of black "seminole" families in the Big Bend, none more remarkable than the one Viola and Ben formed.

Tyrus Fain

Your friend has touched on a topic that very much needs to be done. The emerging threats of another influenza epidemic especially in the Big Bend is one that should be addressed. History always repeats itself. I suggest a start with some background reading on the flu epidemic in Texas. See the Handbook of Texas article on epidemic diseases at: ... sme1.html. I think it a good idea to begin with the bibliography for the article. The Handbook also has two articles on Seminoles that have helpful bibliographies: ... bms19.html ... bmb18.html
The best single book I have on Seminoles in my library is: The Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole by Grant Foreman, University Of Oklahoma Press, 1934.

Narrowing the research specifically to Viola Pettus will be difficult but I do not mean to say impossible. Its just one of those topics that will take a lot of digging and that is the only way to determine if there is enough available material to piece the story together. I think I would do some digging in Marathon. Are there any Pettus family members living that might have some info about the story? You might need to do some oral history interviews with them. To find them try running a newspaper ad. Next I think I would check with the Archives Of The Big Bend at Sul Ross in Alpine. They might well have a file on this. Also be sure to look though the newspaper index of the Alpine Avalanche at the archive and spend some time with their extensive oral history collection. See:

Another suggestion is to go through the El Paso Times newspaper index at the El Paso Public Library. Perhaps the Barker Center For American History at U. T. in Austin will have some holdings. See: And don't forget to look at U. S. Census records for Marathon. You might be surprised at the population decline due to the epidemic.

One final suggestion, when I take on a project like this I always put together a list of search terms. This way when I start to dig for material, I have an idea of what I am looking for. Here is a suggested list for the topic: Viola Pettus, Ben Pettus, Spanish Influenza, Texas Seminole Indians, Big Bend Seminole Indians, Brewster County Influenza emidemic, Marathon Influenza epidemic, Brewster County Influenza and so on. As your research progresses add to your list. Hope this is helpful and good luck!

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Examples of ineptitude and injustices perpetrated by individual Texas Rangers (TR) as well as entire units are not uncommon throughout the history of Texas, even up the present day. UT historian W. P. Webb, generally considered an apologist for the TR service, criticized TR activities back to the 1870s during the "Cortinas War on the War Grande," in his The Texas Rangers:A Century of Frontier Defense (1935), 181-2.

The Mexican Revolution brought on another series of border problems that resulted in atrocities. The most well known of those are the well documented (i. e., state representative "Tony" Canales investigation) and photographed slaughters carried out by state rangers between Brownsville and Laredo.

The Big Bend region was not without its problems either, particularly following the "Santa Isabel Massacre" of nineteen American miners west of Chihuahua City (Jan. 10, 1916), the Pancho Villa raid on Columbis, NM, (March 10, 1916) and the raid by starving and desperate Mexican bandits on Glenn Spring, TX (May 1916). Later, on Christmas Day, 1917, the raid on Luke Brite's ranch on the high plain above the escarpment overlooking the Rio Grande valley west of Marfa brought on a near fever pitch of resentment and demands for "justice" among the Anglo population of the region. Both the US Army and TR service were called on to mete it out. The Army, it seems, acted with circumspection leaving the dirty work to the state militia, or TR service. And those boys went about it with a vengeance (See: Glenn Justice, Revolution on the Rio Grande: Mexican Raids and Army Pursuits 1916-1919). One cold night in January 1918 a squad of TR under the command of Capt. J. M. Fox, of Brownsville area fame,rounded up Porvenir, Texas, taking "fifteen men between the ages of sixteen and seventy-two and marched them off into the darkness to a rock bluff . . . where they unceremoniously shot the Mexicans to death"(Justice, 39). No evidence to qualify any arrests had been found so the TR acted as judge, jury and executioner. Problem solved. But what problem? Many of those killed were U.S. citizens.

Those were only the "main events" of the killing season. Murders by TR took place all around the region. One, for example, happened in broad-open daylight in downtown Marfa when Carlos Morales Wood, the Valentine, Texas-based editor of La Patria, a Spanish-language newspaper was gunned down by two TR. Both rangers involved later became Texas sheriffs. Ron Segura points out another episode when TR H. L. Robertson murdered one of Segura's relatives.

Glenn Willeford

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Hello, Glenn ~ I am trying to identify 2 unused real photo postcards (circa 1910) that feature beautiful horses ("Flambeau" on one, "Resultal" on the other) with their trainers. The horses' names and "T.O. Ranch" were handwritten on the negatives before the photos were developed (unidentified photographer). One horse appears to possibly be a quarter horse, but the other is much larger.

Do you have information on the T.O. Ranch that would indicate they had racehorses or show horses? Any further information on the T.O. would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time!

Lori Kimball


I have no doubt the T. O. Ranch had race horses. For many years, the ranch was the principal broker of cattle and horses coming out of Mexico during the Mexican revolution. Pancho Villa kept his armies going by stripping the haciendas of Chihuahua of their vast herds. It has been estimated that between 1910 and 1920 some one-million head of cattle were sold across the Texas border many times for as little as $5 a head. The cattle and horses were often exchanged for guns and ammunition. When President Woodrow Wilson placed an arms embargo on Villa, the going rate for ammunition rose to $1 per round. Five shots for every cow but do not underestimate the quality of the livestock. An example of this is the Terrazas hacienda. The Terrazas were not only the largest landowners in Mexico but in all of Latin America. They had magnificent horses and some of the finest cattle of the day. For more on this search my blog archive for T. O. Ranch. Gj

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H. O. (sic) Robertson is the person responsible for the murder of my grandfather, Rodrigo Barragan and his friend, Febronio Calanche. Robertson was a cold blooded killer, worked the border as a river rider, was deputized as a Texas Ranger and when his friend, Joe Sitter was killed, he took revenged by killing every Mexican he came in contact with, to include the above named and also my uncle Anestacio Segura.

I pray that someday, someone will publish the real truth of who these people really were. Recently the Texas Ranger Association put a headstone on Joe Sitter's grave in Valentine, TX to "honor" his service as a Texas Ranger. This story appeared in the Marfa big Bend Sentinel, you could probably contact Marfa paper and view in their archives.

Ron Segura

You are not alone in your assessment of Texas Ranger Horace L. Robertson. Candelaria merchant and Justice of the Peace wrote the following account after investigating the murder of Barragan and Calanche in 1914.

I have always felt sure it was Robertson who shot to death Barragan and Calanche or ordered it done. Robertson as he came up the river was still boss of the T. O. Ranch and the men with him were his cowboys and under his control. Anyway if he neither did the killing himself, nor ordered it done, he sanctioned, or acquiesced in and there is no use to deny it the foul deed. The following are the known facts in the case.

Barragan and Calanche were hunting a lost bull in the dry pasture between our ranch and the river. Our ranch, at that time, was owned by Calanche."

(This ranch is today known as the Circle Dug Ranch see for more. Be sure and click on the history link.)

Kilpatrick continued,"Robertson and his men camped on the edge of this dry pasture near the trail leading to Calanche's ranch house the night of the same day the two Mexicans were hunting the lost bull. Two days later when Barragan and Calanche failed to show up, Mexican trackers went to hunt for them. Their trail was stuck and followed into Robertson's camp. From the camp there were only two trails-one made by the main body of Robertson's men going on up the river; the other made by three or four horsemen going up a small arroyo. Following this later trail the dead bodies of the two men were found. Upon the head of each were piled his saddle blanket, cartridge belt and gun.

The only possible interpretation of these facts is that Barragan and Calanche while on their way late in the evening to the latter's ranch rode into Robertson's camp when they were tied up,--the trackers declared there was evidence of this, until the next morning. After breakfast, the main body of the gang went on up the river. Two or three remained behind, took Barragan and Calanche six or seven hundred yards up the arroyo and shot them to death. The killers then-for there was their trail cut across (sic) and joined the main body.

Now, Robertson knew of Calanche, and that he did not have a spotless reputation among some of the stockmen, and he was not unaware that Calanche had once been indicted for the alleged theft of a calf. But doubtless he didn't care to remember the old Mexican came clear (sic). This is why, I believe Robertson killed him, had him killed or consented to his killing. Barragan was shot merely because he was with Calanche, the once indicted calf stealer. Here Robertson was shown up in what seemed to be his true colors. All he wanted was some accusation, suspicion or former indictment and then he would rashly proceed either to manufacture evidence or to just kill the supposed thief. Yet no investigation was ever made of this most wanton and cruel slaying of three innocent Mexican citizens: Holy Jesus! And we call this a Christian land and one of law and order where God still reigns. Forty years ago before the fundamentalist church people struck Presidio County so outrageous an affair would have received serious attention. But now with her villages and towns full of school houses, places of worship and halls of justice, would be assassins and cold blooded murders go scot free.

Kilpatrick felt very strongly about the murders and went so far as to appear before a Presidio County Grand Jury and as he put it begged for an indictment that never came.

Several years ago, members of the Calanche family from El Paso located the graves of Barragan and Calanche on the Texas side of the Rio Grande just up river a short distance from the Los Fresnos, Chihuahua crossing north of Candelaria in Presidio County.

I am at present working on a manuscript detailing these murders by Ranger Robertson. Robertson was later tried in El Paso for killing Joe Sitters son, Walter Sitters. A few years after the trial, Robertson was shot to death in the Texas Panhandle. The book will also have a chapter on Joe Sitters and his vendetta to kill Chico Cano, which ended in his own death in 1915. I share your frustration with the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame because they seem to do their best to glorify the bloody deeds of many of these old rangers.

Ron, are you also related to Leno Barragan of Candelaria? I also have found some interesting things about him and plan to include it in my forthcoming book titled, "More Little Known History Of The Texas Big Bend: Documented Chronicles Of Apaches, Comanches, Frontiersmen, Outlaws And Lawmen".


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I am researching my mysterious ancestor named Lewis Gardner. He was born c. 1810 SC, migrated to GA where he married, fathered children, and farmed. He then migrated to MS where he owned a farm. His wife divorced him and he went to Texas after the Civil War. Lewis lived in Houston County for a time and spent his last years in Johnson County, Texas.

He probably got remarried, but family lore says that Lewis had a reputation as a bad man and that he was later supposedly killed by horse thieves at a place pronounced 'Natchez' near Brownsville, Texas.

Do you know of a place pronounced 'Natchez' near Brownsville?

Would you know of any Brownsville newspapers from about 1865 - 1880?

Any note of a mysterious gunfighter named Lewis Gardner in south Texas?

He was said to have been involved in a gunfight near the King Ranch and was also said to have been ambushed and supposedly killed in a gunfight while transporting horses to Louisiana to be sold.

Their was also supposed to have been a postcard of him taken at Brownsville, Texas.

Thank you,
Corey Gardner

I did a little digging on this one and here is what I found. shows a Lewis Gardner, son of John Gardner born in 1810 in South Carolina. He died in 1880 in Dallas County, Texas. Not sure if this is your ancestor but might be. The Handbook of Texas has nothing on Nachez, Texas near Brownsville. I think you might want to spend some time doing research on this at the Barker Texas History Center at U.T. in Austin. Search their excellent vertical files and see what you find. The Barker Center also has the most complete collection of Texas Newspapers on microfilm available and should have Brownsville newspapers for that time period. Also, search King Ranch and see if you can't find something about the gunfight. I know there are several books on the King Ranch but do not have any in my library. The Barker should have this also. Good luck and let us know what you find about your gunfighter of South Texas. Gj

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On Friday, August 24, 2007, 03:42 PM, Gary Owen wrote:

Since the last post, I have done a little more thinking about what I remember of those episodes. Senor Luna was a somewhat enigmatic chap, dis-appearing for long stretches, and then suddenly reappearing, often to the accompaniment of some level of stress for somebody. It was not like he just subsided into obscurity and went about his affairs un-noticed. You always noticed the presence of Senor Luna. I either never knew, or have forgotten, just how Senor Luna sustained himself. I know that he, being a dual citizen, spent some time across the river with his elderly mother.

It may be that he had other relatives elsewhere on this side of the river who looked after him for some of the time. I doubt he was periodically institutionalized--considering the grief that would have attended that. Senor Luna's troubles with Mexican officialdom reached a crisis one day, I believe in the early spring of '67. Some of us were at the B.P. office one day when the phone rang and it was the custom people down at the bridge calling us to get down there quickly.

They said that the Commandante of the Mexican Army garrison across the river had an American citizen in chains and that we had to take him off their hands or they were going to have to shoot him or something. I suppose it was the bit about an "American" citizen that threw me off, that plus the fact that many weeks had passed since the hotel encounter. I went down there expecting to see some crazed tourist who had gone berserk in Mexico somehow, and was being expelled. When we got to the border crossing, it was only a few minutes until some Mexican army vehicles came racing across the bridge and slid to a stop in the dirt.

Out of the back of one of them, they dragged a very disheveled and oddly subdued (though visibly enraged) Senor Luna, bound hand and foot in chains and manacles. The commandante had him unchained and said something to the effect that he was now our problem. We knew that we had to get him away quickly to avoid an unfortunate incident of some sort, but how to get him into a vehicle was not a simple matter. Someone, knowing his quirk about the Attorney General, told him that the AG already had heard about this and was coming to intercede ---personally, and that the meeting was arranged for the next day in Marfa and we were instructed to escort him there.

This was right up his alley, and we opened the rear door to put him in the back. That seemed to offend him, and he insisted that a guest of the AG was entitled to ride in front. With that a couple of the others got in the car, and away they went for the county tank in marfa 67 miles away. When they got there the trick was to get him in a cell, so they told him that the AG had instructed them to keep Senor Luna in a carefully guarded secure location until his arrival the following day.

That worked well enough and seemed to mollify him. Several weeks passed, and one evening I was standing on a street in greater downtown Presidio when Senor Luna appeared. It was apparent that he recognized me, as he made straight for me, and began inquiring as to my well being. He was without his crutch, so I expressed some pleasure at his recovery from his injury. We stood there as he talked, all the while I was hoping the subject of the Attorny General would not come up, fearing it might remind him of the recent deceptions that landed him in the slammer in Marfa.

In a few moments he strolled away, limping slightly into the gathering dusk of a Rio Grande spring evening. I never saw Senor Luna again. Shortly I found myself in the army, bound for southeast Asia, and when that was done other matters were such that I never went back until 20 years later just for a day. That short time I spent in the Big Bend area was the most formative time of my life. The land, the people, all of it, have lived in my memory more vividly than even the war. For these 40 years I have wondered what ever became of Senor Luna.

I am hoping that some other old Presidio hand will read this who knows and can pass it along to me. One amusing aside to all this. Some time later,after the army,I was watching the film"The Wild Bunch" with Ernest Borgnine and William Holden. When the Mexican General Mapache appeared I had the momentary idea that they had somehow wound up with the Commandante of the Ojinaga army garrison playing a bit part in thair movie, because he looked just like him. Probably that movie would be as near to what that time along the border was really like as we can get to today. An interesting mix of the old and the modern.

More later, G.Owen

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Here is more from Gary Owen remembering his days in the 1960's with the Border Patrol. Gj

All this remembrance of Nate Fuller and my time in Presidio has made me think of many things I saw in that time 40 years ago.There were many interesting characters in residence in Presidio then,and I suppose that a certain amount of eccentricity would be a result of(requirement for?) living there for long.

Of all the odd souls I came to know there,one of the more memorable has to be "Senor Luna"I never knew if that was really his name,or merely a reflection of his frequent state of mind. My first awareness of Senor Luna came early on,when we were picking around outside Presidio doing a little sign cutting for any one heading out for the interior.We observed this really big footprint--I mean Shaquille O'neil big.The old hand observed- "Oh ,that's just Senor Luna,youll get to know him eventually".

Well,time went by and I gave it no more thought.Then one evening I was sitting at the Hotel Bar in Ojinaga enjoying a Tecate,and idly watching a "Lady of the Evening" plying her trade with a couple of guys from up north somewhere.It was cool weather then,and the door opened and in hobbles this very large individual wearing a greatcoat,and using a really stout wooden crutch.

He comes over and plops down on the stool next to me and with no introduction and only a few pleasantries,begins extolling the charms of "Maria Elena" across the way and inquires as to whether I would like an introduction.Not wishing to be impolite I replied that while her charms were indeed considerable(NOT)I thought she was profitably engaged for the evening,and that it would be rude to intrude upon the arrangements.Another time perhaps. That seemed to satisfy him and conversation turned briefly to more mundane matters.He spoke pretty good English,and at first all seemed normal.Then his conversation became increasingly erratic as he discussed his dis-satisfaction with his treatment at the hands of the local constabulary.After a few minutes he started spraying spittle and appeared increasingly angry.

I was starting to eye the door when he said something that let me know he was getting really unstable.He said he had to be in Presidio the next day for a meeting with the Attorney General!Now,I didn't know who exactly he had in mind,but I was pretty certain the the attorney general(Ramsey Clarke I think)didn't even know there was such a place as Presidio,let alone how to get there.The more he said the madder he seemed to get,and the more worried I got.Here was this huge person,red-eyed spitting mad,armed with a crutch that would have made a seviceable battering ram,and what's worse--between me and the door.

I was young and feisty in those days,but I knew there was no profit in argument with the likes of this guy.I told him that if the attorney general was due in Presidio the next day I had to immediately get back across the river and make preparations for his arrival----and with that I bolted out the door,and straight for the border.

The next day I recounted my strange encounter,and was told--"Well,you've finally made the acquaintance of "Senor Luna".It seemed that because of some accident of birth coupled with some peculiarity of immigration law,Senor Luna enjoyed dual citizenship.His elderly mother lived in Ojinaga.But Senor Luna came and went as he pleased.For some reason he was on really bad terms with the police in Mexico,and had evidently gotten the best of them at times.It got bad enough that they resolved that at the next outbreak they would just shoot him,which they did.Whether by design or lousy aim,they only succeeded in wounding him in the leg,hence the crutch. While Senor Luna appeared considerably irked by that,I got the impression that he was most peeved by what he consided to be the attorney general's inadequate concern for his grievance.

That was not my last encounter with Senor Luna.There was a further violent episode in Senor Luna's stormy relationship with officialdom that resulted in his forcible expulsion by the Mexican Army.That will wait for another installment in the Luna saga---more later. G.Owen

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This just came from Kirby Warnock about his Border Bandits film. Gj

Just a note that we've been invited to screen BORDER BANDITS at some
theaters in Texas in September. We'll be in Austin, San Antonio and Mission
September 13-15.
All details are on our Web site at

I will be at every screening to take questions and comments from the

Come on out, and please bring your friends who don't believe this story.
They are the folks I want in the audience.
For a good idea of what takes place at these theater screenings, read Joe
Nick Patoski's account on his blog:

Joe Nick is a former senior editor at Texas Monthly and has seen the good,
the bad and the ugly.

See you there!!!
"Ride to the sound of the guns, boys!"


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Here is an email question from Rolando Romo
about Quanah Parker coming to the Big Bend to buy peyote.

I am a history graduate student at Texas A&M International University and I am working on a thesis of John Richard Parker, Uncle to Quanah Parker.

I came across an internet site in which you are quoting from historian, Barry Scobee. In the article, Scobee states that Quanah and two companions stayed at the Hotel Limpia in the Big Bend Area in 1894. They were looking for peyote.

John Richard Parker was visited by Quanah Parker and two companions at his ranch in Mexico. During his stay at the ranch, Quanah was given a potion that included peyote to assist curing him from a deep wound from a bull's gash. Quanah then went back to Cache, Oklahoma.

I would very much like to have as many details of Quanah's visit at Hotel Limpia in order to obtain more information. I have not been able to get a date or geographic place name for John Richard Parker's ranch in Mexico. I am following all possible leads. If you can be of any help, it would be appreciated.

Is there a museum or library that would have the guest registers for Hotel Olympia?

Thank you,
Rolando Romo

I got the information about Quanah in Fort Davis from a newspaper article clipping. Sadly, there the article is undated and I do not know what newspaper it came from. Presumable it was probably sometime in the 1920's or 30's. As for old Limpia Hotel registration books suggest you contact the Limpia Hotel. They might well have documation of Quanah's visit. Also, you might want to check the Arhives of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University, they have Scobee papers, see For more on Hotel Limpia see:


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