A superb biography of a famous Texas Ranger on the Western frontier
William Jesse ‘Bill’ McDonald was born in Kemper County, Mississippi in 1852, but it was in the state of Texas where he earned his reputation as one of the most notable captains of the famous Texas Rangers. Such was his fame that Albert Paine, best known for his work on Mark Twain, was persuaded to become his biographer and that decision has resulted in a finely crafted account of McDonald’s life in which his western character and amiability authentically shines through the various anecdotes of his life as a lawman on the South-Western frontier. Having moved to Wood County, Texas as a young man, McDonald became a grocer, but developed an interest in the law and soon became a Deputy Sheriff, Ranger and U.S. Deputy Marshall. Before long he was capturing cattle rustlers and train-robbers in the ‘No-Man’s-Land’ and the Cherokee Strip. In 1891 McDonald became captain of Texas Rangers Company B, Frontier Battalion and set about bringing bank robbers, murderers and outlaw Mexican-Americans to justice with extraordinary success. Such was McDonald’s renown that he eventually became a bodyguard for Theodore Roosevelt (who contributed an introduction to this biography), Woodrow Wilson and William Howard Taft. This is an essential book for anyone interested in the Texas Rangers and is highly recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
It was during the latter part of 1905 and the spring of 1906 that Ranger Captain McDonald was engaged in unravelling a mystery which gave opportunity for the employment of his natural talent for detective work, combined with the skill and experience acquired during a long period of following criminals and uncovering crime.
On September 28th, 1905, two miles from the little town of Edna, Jackson County, Texas, during the temporary absence of J. F. Conditt—employed in rice harvest, seven miles distant—his wife and four young children, ranging in ages from a baby boy of three to a little girl of twelve, were murdered in broad daylight—their bodies left as they had fallen in and about the premises. The murders were committed in the most brutal and bloody way, with knife, adz, and such household tool and implement as came to hand. Three of the murdered children were boys. The little girl of twelve had been violated. Only an infant of a few months had been left alive.
The story of that ghastly crime—its motive; its commission; its detection and the punishment of its perpetrators—can only be epitomised here, for its details would fill a volume and belong only in the official records; neither are they yet complete. We shall attempt, therefore, no more than the outlines, with such particulars as will show the scope and the importance of Captain McDonald’s work in solving a mystery and fixing the guilt, not only without the assistance of those most interested, but in the face of their bitter opposition.
The Conditt family had but recently moved to Edna. They were working people, respectable but poor, and had taken a house formerly occupied by negroes. This in itself was an offense to their immediate neighbourhood—a negro settlement—and when Mr. Conditt repaired his fences and thereby shut off from public use a windmill where the negroes had been accustomed to go for water, his offense in their eyes became a crime. They did not want him there and resolved to get rid of him. How many or how few were concerned, directly and indirectly, in the conspiracy to drive out or destroy the white family that had settled among them, will perhaps never be known. That negroes seldom betray one another, and that a negro conspiracy is the most difficult of all plots to illuminate, are facts only too well established by our recently recorded history. The Conditt murder plot furnishes an unusual example of this peculiar African phase.
The negroes were sullen, at first, in their manner toward the Conditts. Then one of them—a certain Felix Powell—spoke insultingly to Mildred Conditt, the little girl of twelve. Then came September 28th—nine o’clock in the morning—the day and hour of destruction.
It was one o’clock in the afternoon before the crime became known. Monk Gibson, a coloured boy of sixteen who had been ploughing for Mr. Conditt in a field about two hundred yards from the house, carried the news. He ran to the house of a white man named John Gibson, some distance away, and reported that he had just seen Mrs. Conditt being chased around the house by two men. John Gibson went on a run to the Conditt premises; found no trace of the two men, but did find the murdered family, a house like a slaughter pen, and in the midst of this horror, a wailing infant. Gibson, the white man, hurried the coloured boy off to bring Mr. Conditt from the rice field, and set out to spread the alarm.
In a brief time, the country was aflame. Monk Gibson, returning with Mr. Conditt, was put under arrest, and it was now found that he was smeared and splashed with blood. He explained the stains by saying that his nose had bled and that he had hurt himself creeping through a wire fence, but there were no indications of his nose having bled, and he could show only the merest scratch of a wound. That he was concerned in the crime was never doubted, but only the unreasoning then believed he had committed it alone. Questioned, he told conflicting stories, finally stating that men whom he did not know had dragged him to the house, compelled him to view their work, splashed him with blood and set him free.
Of course, these statements were not believed. The whole country round about Edna, now terribly aroused, was determined to have the truth. If Monk Gibson was alone in the crime, and there were many who soon reached this conclusion, his punishment would not wait the slow process of the law. If he were one of several, he must reveal the names of his associates. He was put through the severest ordeal of examination, but he would utter nothing more than the confused contradictory stories already told. Every method was tried to extort information, yet he only repeated his conflicting stories and refused to tell names.
It was now pretty generally assumed that he had nothing to tell and that he alone had committed the crime. A lynching mob was forming, and a report came from Bay City that two hundred men had chartered a special train for Edna and were coming to destroy the boy murderer that night. Sheriff Egg of Edna and his deputies resolved to remove the prisoner to a place of safety, and quietly arranged their plan. As soon as it was dark, they had swift horses taken to the back of the jail, one for Gibson and others for the officers who would accompany him. Then quietly they got him out through a back window; mounted him, unfettered, between two officers, and slipped away toward Hallettsville, where it was believed he would be safe.
They never reached Hallettsville. While galloping at full speed along an open road they came to a curve. The officers had no thought that Gibson would try to escape, and he was riding free. But at the curve, Gibson did not turn.