The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, July 1940 - April, 1941

Law and Lawlessness on the Texas Frontier

In warm weather the merchant did not even close the front
door of his store before going home at night. The next morn-
ing when he came to work, as apt as not, he would find a
group of freighters or cowboys who had arrived in town during
the night asleep on the counters or floor, or perhaps someone
passing through during the night had helped himself to a pair
of California pants or a plug of chewing tobacco; but if he
did he left the price of the item where the merchant could find it.
Somehow people did not like locks. They symbolized an im-
peachment of public honesty and integrity. Occasionally some-
one from the East would open a business in Colorado City,
and, not having too much faith in the convention which made
locks unnecessary, would initiate his business with a big pad-
lock on the door. It was likely that the lock would not remain
there long. The cowboys from the first cattle outfit coming
to town would probably shoot it to pieces.
No attempt has been made in this paper to treat such matters
as family or community feuds, as exemplified by the "Mason
County War"; cattle stealing, which necessitated the organi-
zation of the Northwest Texas Cattle Raisers' Association at
Graham in 1877; fence-cutting, which was the aftermath of the
introduction of barbed wire and which prompted drastic legis-
lation in 1884; "bad men," as typified by Sam Bass, "Black
Jack" Ketchum, and scores of others; or the liquor question,
which was already gathering momentum at the close of the
period-all of these subjects have been treated elsewhere.
It is in a measure strange that in a land where murder was
common and not seriously regarded, where stage hold-ups and
train robberies were frequent and taken more or less for
granted, where horse thievery was recurrent and considered
the most heinous of crimes, a thing to be ruthlessly stamped
out without recourse to law, where prostitution was condoned,
where drunkenness was taken for granted, where fighting was
a pastime, where men bounced chairs over each other's heads
in court without incurring "contempt," where a judge's ability
to maintain order in court depended upon his own dominating
personality and perhaps a couple of six-shooters lying on the
bench in front of him-it is strange and somewhat contradic-
tory that in such a land people trusted each other, never locked
the doors of their houses, loaned one to the other of time and
substance without stint, and considered each other's "word as
good as his bond."
Lubbock, Texas.

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, July 1940 - April, 1941. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth146052/. Accessed October 21, 2014.