The Steer Branded MURDER
This is a local story that has been told by many…..Just a story that is worth repeating.
This is a version written by J.Frank Dobie. Many others have written versions of the story, but I like this one. The MURDER STEER became a “Ghost Steer”. A cowboy might see him, usually about dusk; and then he “just wasn’t there.” There were some who did not want to see him.
In 1890 most of the trans-Pecos country was still unfenced, and in the timbered and brushed roughs plenty of Longhorn blood still ran wild. On January 28 of that year the small cattle owners operating around the Leoncita waterholes in northern Brewster County …..held a round-up to brand what calves had escaped the fall work. Between two and three thousand cattle were thrown together in the herd.
The chief operators in this part of the country were Dubious and Wentworth. They did not approve of such early work and were taking no part in it, but one of their riders named Fine Gilleland was present to represent their interest.
Among the “little men” was Henry Harrison Powe. He was a Mississippian who had left college to fight in the Confederate Army and was one-armed as a result. He had come to Texas during the hard-handed Reconstruction days. Not many miles from the roundup grounds he had buried the body —eleven bullet holes in it — of a murdered nephew. He was considered an honest man, not at all contentious. His brand was H H P.
In the roundup, among other unbranded animals, was a brindle yearling bull. It was not following any cow, but round-up boss and another range man informed Powe that the bull belonged to a certain H H P cow. They had seen him with the cow and knew both animals well by flesh marks. “Are you positive ?” Powe asked. They said they would swear to the brindles identity. Then Powe rode into the herd and cut the brindle out, heading him into a small cut of cows and calves being held by his own son. Very soon after this, Fine Gilleland galloped up to the cut. “Does that brindle bull have a mother here?” he asked the boy sharply..?
“No,” the boy replied, “but the boss told Father it belongs to an H H P cow.”
“He’ll play hell taking it unless he produces the cow.” Gilleland retorted. Then, with out another word, he separated the brindle and ran him back to the main herd.
Powe saw the bull coming, followed by Gilleland. He rode out and the two men passed some words not heard by others. Then Powe turned back into the roundup and started to cut the brindle out again. Gilleland made straight toward him. Halted in the middle of the herd, the two men had some more words. They were very brief. Powe was unarmed. He rode to the far side of the herd and borrowed a six-shooter out of a friends saddle pocket. Back into the herd Powe now rode, found the brindle bull and started him for the H H P cut, following him out. Midway between the cut and the big herd, Fine Gilleland met them. He roped at the bull but missed. By this time, Gilleland was off his horse shooting at Powe to kill. He killed. Gilleland now remounted and left the roundup at a run. In all probability he was honest in claiming the brindle maverick for his employers. Perhaps he hoped to make a reputation. There was a strong tendency on the range for little owners to “feed off” and big outfits in their country. The Big spreads sometimes hired men to be hard.
The Powe boy rode immediately to Alpine to notify rangers of the killing. Meanwhile men remaining with the round-up branded-out the calves and yearlings, the H H P included.
When the brindle bull was dragged up to the branding fire, there was a short discussion . He was thrown on his right side. Then a man with a running iron burned deep into the shaggy, winter hair on his left side the letters ……. M U R D E R. The letters ran across the ribs from shoulder to flank.
“Turn him over” the man said. The bull was turned over. With a fresh iron the man branded on the right side , JAN 28 90 . The Bull was not castrated nor earmarked ……….
A few days later two rangers killed Gilleland in the Mountains. What happened to the brindle maverick, with that brand that no one would claim, is not definitely settled. R.W. Powe, the son of the man who was killed, whose account of the matter has been followed in this narrative, says that the Murder Bull was eventually driven out of the country with a trail herd bound for Montana.
Whether he was or not, many stories still circulate one the wide spaces of the trans-Pecos country about “the maverick branded MURDER ………….