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Thursday, February 28, 2008, 04:24 PM

I am researching some family oral history which occurred in Presidio, likely in the summer of 1917. I am looking for a newspaper/official account of this event. Can you suggest some directions/web sites?

Hugh Fletcher

In the summer of 1917, Presidio County deputy sheriff John Fletcher Rawls, a rancher in the Casa Piedra area of Presidio County, Texas was wounded in a shootout in the Anaya Cafe on Main Street in Presidio , Texas. The gunmen were renegade members of the US Army who were protecting the border against Pancho Villa. Rawls, commissioned by Sheriff Ira Cline, of Presidio County, Texas was the only lawman in the immediate area and alone, challenged the band of seven armed men when he discovered them in a back room of the cafe with the waitresses who had been taken prisoner for sexual purposes. The waitresses were daughters of the owner, part of a family that had taken refuge in Presidio to avoid the revolution that was taking place in Northern Mexico, particularly in their home state of Chihuahua. When Rawls opened the door to the back room the shoot out began. Rawls tripped on the step to the room which was raised above the ground floor level of the main floor, and as the shooters ran past him, as he scrambled to get up off the floor, they unloaded their service pistols into him, escaping but leaving the girls unharmed. They were never identified or tried as their identities were never known. Somehow Rawls lived, although severely crippled. After a year of hospitalization with a huge amount of doctor bills, Rawls sold his ranch and moved to El Paso, Texas He died in Austin, Texas Dec 21, 1958. After the revolution, the Anaya family returned to their home in Chihuahua.


The following is a response to the above account from Monty Waters:

You published e-mail from Hugh Fletcher in February 2008. He sought more information on a shoot out involving his grandfather in Presidio Texas. I have since spoken with Hugh Fletcher and his son Tyler (of Fletcher's books in Salado). I have done more research into the career of my grandfather, A. G. Beard, a law enforcement officer in Presidio County from 1916 to about 1920. I think the story of Fletcher Rawls and my grandfather are connected, beyond the fact that they were both law enforcement officers at the same time and in the same place, though I'll admit I can't prove it. Written below is what I do know. I won't try to attach or insert footnotes here but unless otherwise indicated, all of my information comes from documents and published sources I have reviewed.

I can provide a bit more detail on the events described in Hugh Fletcher's e-mail about his grandfather's brush with death. First, this probably did not happen in 1917. He dates it as during the tenure of Presidio County Sheriff Ira Cline, who did not take office until 1918. Cline served until 1921 after losing the 1920 election to Jeff Vaughn. His grandfather, Fletcher Rawls served both Cline and his predecessor, Milton Chastain as deputy for many years and was certainly involved in the violence of the times. The Alpine Avalanche published a story on October 14, 1914 with the following headline: "Fletcher Rawls killed Marin Dominquez, a bad and treacherous Mexican, at a dance held at the Rock House." The "Rock House" (aka Casa Piedra) was very near Rawls ranch in southern Presidio County. Sheriff Chastain, in May 1917 recommended Fletcher, his brother Tom and his nephew (Tom's son) Jack for "Special Ranger" commissions, which could usually be obtained by having the local sheriff request them from the governor. Chastain cited the Rawls proximity to the border as the reason for their request, and also cited Fletcher Rawls nine years of service as a deputy to him. Governor Ferguson granted the request and all three Rawls got commissions, which allowed them to carry firearms openly, and assist the local ranger company when needed, though they were not on the state payroll. Ultimately these commissions were surrendered when a new governor and new adjutant general took over in the wake of Ferguson's impeachment, and only Tom Rawls bothered to renew. This is probably because the other Rawls received or resumed their commissions as Presidio County deputies and didn't need them.

Hugh Fletcher wrote that the incident occurred in the summer. His son Tyler remembered his great grandmother telling him she was in class and was called out and told something terrible had happened to her father. He thought it was during the school term. For reasons I give below, I think they were both correct, and the incident happened in May of 1919.

Hugh told me that his grandfather borrowed a new holster from his nephew Jack, before the incident, and his gun stuck in his holster, making it impossible for him to draw his weapon. This explains the lopsided outcome of the gun battle. He also told me his grandfather's interest in the woman in the cafe was not entirely professional. He thought his grandfather, single at the time, was sweet on one of the women who worked there. He asked his grandfather what happened to the men who committed this act of violence against him and was told that they were taken care of by friends, and wouldn't elaborate.

On August 5, 1919 my grandfather, A.G. Beard, Charlie Craighead, and Jack Rawls were indicted by the Presidio County grand jury for robbery with firearms, assault to murder . . . [and] threat against life and false imprisonment. My grandfather had been honorably discharged from Jerry Gray's Marfa-headquarted company of rangers in March 1919, and sometime thereafter he took a job as town marshal of Marfa. Charles Craighead, another former ranger, had a long and "colorful" career in Texas law enforcement. He was a son of a former Wilson Co. sheriff, brother to ranger Pat Craighead who lost a leg in the "San Benito shootout" in south Texas that took the lives of a deputy sheriff and ranger. Charles Craighead, shortly thereafter took the life of a Mexican suspect, for which he was indicted and acquitted on grounds of self-defense. In 1915 he was involved in the shootout with members of Chico Cano's gang that took the lives of Eugene Hulen and Joe Sitter. As of May 21, 1919 he resigned a position as an inspector for the Texas Cattle Raisers Association, and the special ranger commission that went with it, to become a Presidio County constable. Jack Rawls was 21 years old, had recently married and become a father. He was the son of Tom Rawls, a prominent Presidio County rancher and county commissioner. His involvement in a violent escapade with two veteran law enforcement officers seems out of place unless, as I assume, it was directed against parties he blamed for his uncle's wounds.

But I know very few facts about what caused these indictments to be issued, aside from what is written in the grand jury report. All of the files concerning it are missing from the Presidio County courthouse except a few entries in court minutes, which are summarized below. The incident obviously happened sometime prior to August 1919. The grand jury mentioned that crime, and "lewd women" were a problem in Presidio County. It also chastised local law enforcement officers for taking the law into their own hands, instead of reporting criminal activity to the grand jury. This remark suggests that the victims of the violence were not entirely upstanding citizens.

Beard family folklore suggests that A. G. Beard got in trouble for using too much force in shutting down a local business that my 100-year-old cousin has variously described as a "gyp joint" or a house of ill repute. The owners were influential and caused him to lose his job as marshal (the indictment is not mentioned). Could these assaults relate to the Anaya cafe?

There is one other tantalizing clue. In ranger force Special Order 21, which announced my grandfather and others were to be honorably discharged in March, they were specifically made eligible for future service should openings occur in the force. By April Gray's company was again recruiting rangers, and it is likely my grandfather tried to re-enlist. I infer this because on May 24, 1919 Captain Gray wrote to his friend, Captain Roy Aldrich in Austin (who would need to approve any reenlistment) a cryptic letter, which said This is on the Q.T. Don't have beard [sic] put in my company until you see me personal. There has ben [sic] something doing out here. After his signature Gray wrote Destroy this don't file it away. I suspect the "something" Gray referred to was the incident that caused Beard, Rawls and Craighead to be indicted two months later.

In addition to the indictment, in August Beard, Craighead and other ex-rangers and law enforcement officials became suspects in a July 30th robbery of a Mexican payroll officer of $21,600, mainly in gold coins. No one was ever indicted for this robbery, but the suspects are all identified in internal [federal] bureau of investigation documents examined by historians Sadler and Harris. The other suspects included Sheriff Ira Cline, his brother Buford, prominent local rancher Jesse "Buck" Pool, ex-rangers Boone Oliphant, and Andy Barker (nephew of long time Presidio sheriff Dud Barker). The last three were all participants in the 1918 "Porvenir massacre".

If Craighead and Beard did share in the proceeds of this robbery, they would need it for bail and lawyers. Charges were eventually dropped against Jack Rawls. Craighead spent part of this period in Hebbronville where his brother was by now sheriff. After lengthy delays he pled guilty, in 1921 to a charge of aggravated assault. The record does not disclose what sentence, if any, was imposed on him.

My grandfather A.G. Beard never stood trial. All we know for certain is that in early 1920 he was still living in Marfa and told the census taker that he was employed as a peace officer. But by the spring of 1922 we know he was working as security for an American oil company in Tampico, Mexico. It is probably not coincidental that the ex ranger captain under whom he served for two years, James Madison Fox, was also employed there. Fox resigned from the rangers in June, 1918 following the firing of five of his men for their actions at Porvenir. Fox held a variety of jobs until he returned to the rangers as a captain in the mid 1920s under the patronage of the newly elected Miriam Ferguson.

As noted by Hugh Fletcher, the injuries to Fletcher Rawls ended his career as a Big Bend rancher, but his brother and nephew continued to ranch there until the 1950s. Beard eventually returned to Texas, and in 1923 married my grandmother. He died in 1941 and is buried in Austin. Charlie Craighead resumed a career with the Cattle Raisers where he served many years. He died in Hebbronville in 1951. In the late 1950s the Texas Legislature funded a pension for rangers of their era and both Beard's and Craighead's widows received ranger pensions until they died.

Thanks for the update Monty. Unfortunately no microfilm exists of the Marfa New Era newspaper of those days since it burned in a fire sometime in the 1930's. The El Paso Public Library has microfilm and an excellent index of the El Paso Times which may contain some info about the shoot out. also has El Paso Times. Gj

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