Willingham, Caleb Berg [Cape] (1853–1925)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1995

Updated: March 26, 2019

Caleb Berg (Cape) Willingham, early Panhandle rancher and lawman, was born on April 8, 1853, in Georgia. He moved to Atascosa County, Texas, at the age of twenty-one, and in 1875 began working for Charles Goodnight in Pueblo County, Colorado. Goodnight established the JA Ranch at Palo Duro Canyon in 1877 and sent for Willingham and his bride, Mary Marguerite (Mayes), to assist him. Willingham stayed with the JA until 1879, when he joined the LX outfit to do "a little detective work for them in regard to some stolen cattle." While working at the LX he and Marion Armstrong took charge of the "Star Route," the newly surveyed United States mail line from Fort Elliott to Las Vegas, New Mexico. As riders and drivers for that line, sometimes called the Lightning Express, Willingham and Armstrong often traveled night and day, changing mounts at each station. When Oldham County was organized in 1880, Willingham was elected its first sheriff and brought several desperadoes to justice. After losing a reelection bid to J. H. (Jim) East in 1882, Willingham moved to Mobeetie, where he ran the Cattle Exchange Saloon. By then his family included two sons and three daughters. In 1883 J. M. Coburn, founder of the Hansford Land and Cattle Company, hired Willingham at a generous salary, as manager of the Turkey Track Ranch. Willingham's reputation as a lawman and his abilities as a cowman turned the Turkey Track into a successful ranching enterprise. The family moved into the former Quarter Circle T Ranch headquarters house and later into a wooden frame house Willingham constructed nearby. Willingham was among the ranchers involved in the grass lease fight in 1886–87. In November 1886 he charged the brothers John and George Leverton with cattle theft. Although evidence was hazy, the charge led to the attempted arrest and shooting of John Leverton by Wheeler County sheriff George W. Arrington. Leverton's widow subsequently filed murder charges against Arrington and Willingham. Both were acquitted at the trial held in Mobeetie the following year. Willingham continued to supervise the Turkey Track for nearly two decades, raising racehorses, game chickens, and hounds to keep wolves away from the cattle. His children attended school first in Mobeetie and later in Canadian, after the family bought a house there. In 1893 Willingham bought a portion of the old John Chisum ranch on the Pecos River near Roswell, New Mexico, and commuted for a time between both properties before selling the Panhandle holdings to Mart Cunningham and moving his family to the New Mexico ranch. Willingham remained with the Hansford Company until he resigned in 1903. He subsequently worked as a cattle commissioner in El Paso and ranched in Mexico. During his last years he moved to Ajo, Arizona, where he died on January 18, 1925. He was buried in the Ajo Cemetery.

Ernest R. Archambeau, ed., "Old Tascosa: Selected News Items from the Tascosa Pioneer, 1886–1888," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 39 (1966). Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). J. Evetts Haley, Charles Goodnight (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949). Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). John L. McCarty, Maverick Town: The Story of Old Tascosa (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946; enlarged ed. 1968). Mrs. E. V. Nickell, "When Danger Threatened LX Homes," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 8 (1935). Millie Jones Porter, Memory Cups of Panhandle Pioneers (Clarendon, Texas: Clarendon Press, 1945). Glenn Shirley, Temple Houston (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Jerry Sinise, George Washington Arrington (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1979).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Law Officers
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Military
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Willingham, Caleb Berg [Cape],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/willingham-caleb-berg-cape.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995
March 26, 2019