The ranch of Lucas Charles Brite, at Capote Peak in western Presidio County, was attacked by about forty-five Mexicans, possibly supporters of Francisco (Pancho) Villa, on Christmas Day 1917. The raid was well planned. The attackers cut the ranch's telephone lines to prevent any call for help. They chose a holiday, when most of the ranch workers were away and the Brites were at their Marfa home. The family of T. T. Van Neill, ranch foreman, was at the ranch. The first awareness of the assault came when the foreman's father saw riders dismounting in the yard and scattering for cover. He fired on the evident leader of the attackers, and a gunfight developed between the Neills and the raiders. The bandits captured two ranch workers and sent one, José Sánchez, to tell the Neills that the other would be killed if they did not surrender. The Neills knew they were outnumbered and gave the raiders the key to Brite's Store to appease them. After looting the store of clothes, canned goods, and cash, the raiders rounded up the best horses and stole all the ranch's saddles. During the looting of the store, postman Mickey Welch arrived at the ranch in his mail stage with two Mexican passengers. The robbers shot the passengers and hanged Welch in the store.
The bandits stayed at the ranch several hours and were still there when Rev. H. M. Bandy and his family arrived at the ranch to visit the Neills. The raiders allowed the Bandys to reach the Neill home, where the reverend led a prayer and took up a rifle to defend the ranch. The Bandys and the Neills were rescued eventually when a large number of armed neighbors and soldiers arrived in automobiles. James L. Cobb, a neighbor of the Brites, had heard the shots and investigated without being detected. Cobb then drove twelve miles to telephone Luke Brite in Marfa. Brite called Col. George Langhorne of the Eighth Cavalry for help. Although a large posse arrived in automobiles, the raiders escaped down the rimrock, where cars could not follow. Langhorne's soldiers borrowed horses from local ranchers and joined the troops from Ruidosa in pursuit of the robbers. On the morning of December 26 the raiders crossed the Rio Grande at the Los Fresnos ford into Mexico. Later that day some 200 members of troops M and G of the Eighth Cavalry crossed at the same point and pursued them. The American forces engaged in a running fight with about fifteen of the raiders and killed eighteen of them in a canyon not far from Pilares, Chihuahua. They recovered some of the stolen goods, but most of the horses were lost or in such poor condition that they had to be shot. The other raiders escaped into the mountains. Three civilians were killed and one United States soldier, Private John F. Kelly, was wounded in the calf during the conflict. Neill was shot through the face while defending his family from the bandits. Fiske and his men returned to Texas with the recovered property that evening.
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El Paso Times, December 27, 1917, January 4, 1918. Dallas Morning News, December 28, 1917. Noel Leonard Keith, The Brites of Capote (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1950). Virginia Madison, The Big Bend Country of Texas (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1955; rev. ed., New York: October House, 1968). Ronnie C. Tyler, The Big Bend (Washington: National Park Service, 1975). U.S. Senate, Investigation of Mexican Affairs: Preliminary Reports and Hearings (66th Cong., 2d Sess.; 2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1920). Harry Warren Papers, Archives of the Big Bend, Sul Ross State University.
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Rebellions, Raids, and Wars
Boundary Disputes and Ethnic Conflict
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Julia Cauble Smith,
“Brite Ranch Raid,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 18, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994
Most Recent Revision Date:
August 14, 2015
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: