Horrell-Higgins Feud

By: C. L. Sonnichsen

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: July 30, 2020

The Horrell and Higgins families were ranchers who settled in Lampasas County before the Civil War and were friends and neighbors until the 1870s. The five Horrell brothers-Mart, Tom, Merritt, Ben, and Sam-first got into trouble with the State Police in 1873, when Capt. Thomas Williams and seven men went to Lampasas to put a stop to the general lawlessness prevalent there. Williams fought with the Horrell boys and their brother-in-law, Bill Bowen, in Jerry Scott's saloon. When the fight was over, four state policemen were dead. Mart Horrell, badly wounded, was confined in the Georgetown jail, but as soon as he was well enough his brothers helped him to break out. The Horrells remained in the Lampasas area for several more months, gathered a herd of cattle, and then headed for New Mexico. They settled in the Ruidoso country west of Roswell and immediately got into more trouble. Conflicting tales are told about the beginning of the affair known in New Mexico as the Horrell War, but all agree that it was brief and bloody. At least seventeen men were killed, including Ben Horrell and a brother-in-law named Ben Turner.

Eventually, followed for a long distance by the angry New Mexicans, the Horrells returned to Texas. They reached Lampasas near the end of February 1874, surrendered to the authorities, and were tried for the murder of Thomas Williams and acquitted. The brothers resettled in various parts of Lampasas County. Sam lived about seventeen miles north of Lampasas near Simms Creek, Tom had some property about seven miles north of Lampasas, and Mart lived southeast of Lampasas near the Burnet County line.

At some time during the next two years they quarreled with their former neighbor John Pinckney Calhoun (Pink) Higgins, who accused them of stealing his stock. On January 22, 1877, Pink Higgins shot and killed Merritt Horrell in Wiley and Toland's Gem Saloon in Lampasas. Legend claims that this was the same saloon where the four State Police were killed in 1873. The three remaining Horrells were determined to call to account Higgins, his brother-in-law Bob Mitchell, and his friend Bill Wren. On March 26, as Tom and Mart Horrell were on their way to attend a session of Judge W. A. Blackburn's court, they were waylaid four miles east of Lampasas by the Higgins party, which was concealed along the banks of a creek known today as Battle Branch. Tom was knocked out of his saddle, badly hurt. Mart, less seriously hit, stopped his frightened horse, dismounted under fire, and ran off the attackers singlehandedly.

The next battle was apparently accidental. It occurred on June 7, three days after the Lampasas County Courthouse had been burglarized and district court records were destroyed, including the bonds of Pink Higgins and Bob Mitchell. Both factions happened to be in Lampasas that morning, when fighting broke out in the streets. Bill Wren was painfully wounded, and Frank Mitchell, Bob's brother and the cousin of Pink Higgins's wife, was killed. Jim Buck Miller, alias Palmer or Waldrup, a newcomer to the Horrell gang, was also killed. Finally the citizens were able to persuade the clans to cease firing and get out of town. As usual, the Texas Rangers had to be called in to keep the factions from exterminating each other. A detachment surprised the Horrells in their beds and persuaded them to submit to arrest. Maj. John B. Jones got the two sides to agree to stop the fighting. Early in August they signed a pair of unusual documents, still preserved in the adjutant general's papers, in which they agreed to regard the feud as "a by gone thing."

Many western historians think this might have been the final settlement of the Horrell-Higgins feud, but the actual end may have come in the following year. In 1878 Tom and Mart Horrell were suspected, rightly or wrongly, of complicity in the robbery and murder of a country storekeeper in the southwestern part of Bosque County. They were eventually shot to death by a vigilante mob while being confined in the Meridian jail. This may have been the final settlement of the Horrell-Higgins feud. Sam Horrell, the only Horrell left, moved his family to Oregon in 1882. He died in California in 1936. Pink Higgins moved his family to the Spur area in the 1890s and worked as a range detective for the Spur Ranch. He died of a heart attack at his home in 1913.

C. L. Douglas, Famous Texas Feuds (Dallas: Turner, 1936). Jonnie Ross Elzner, Relighting Lamplights of Lampasas County, Texas (Lampasas: Hill Country, 1974). James B. Gillett, Six Years with the Texas Rangers, 1875 to 1881 (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1921; rpt., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976). Daniel Webster Roberts, Rangers and Sovereignty (San Antonio, 1914; rpt., Austin: State House Press, 1987). C. L. Sonnichsen, I'll Die Before I'll Run-The Story of the Great Feuds of Texas (New York: Harper, 1951; 2d. ed., New York: Devin-Adair, 1962).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Feuds
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

C. L. Sonnichsen, “Horrell-Higgins Feud,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/horrell-higgins-feud.

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July 30, 2020