James C. Lafferty

Part of a Gang

December 4, 2008

A former Texas Ranger named Woods had been helping Henry Baylor, long time sheriff of Uvalde County, to round up horse thieves.  He ended up going under cover to work for Edwards County sheriff, Ira Wheat, to catch members of the gang that included Will and Alvin Odle, George Chisum, and others.

He would ride through the little towns of Edwards County posing as a drunk and shooting his pistol, etc., all the while gathering evidence on the gang. Later, he worked under sheriff Corder in Kimble County and was successful in breaking up a ring of thieves in that area.  Soon, members of the gangs began to suspect Woods.  He disappeared on the way home from Chicago to Ballinger, Texas, after last being seen on a cattle train.

Woods was killed on the Dry Frio River and his body, horse and saddle thrown into a cave where they were found many months later.

The story of Woods’ untimely end later came to Baylor by the name of Jim L— (1) who lived on the Dry Frio and who was in jail in Uvalde County on a charge of having killed a suitor of his daughter. (2) Lafferty made bond through some of the men whom Baylor suspected of belonging to the gang Woods had turned in.  Some time later while Lafferty was working on the Jack Burt ranch south of Uvalde, he was seen in company with one of his former bondsmen, who, as it later turned out, was also implicated in the thievery.  Baylor went to the Burt ranch and arrested Lafferty as he was saddling his horse preparatory to leaving the country.  He was convicted and given seventy-five years in the penitentiary.(3)

Some months after he was taken to the penitentiary, Lafferty wrote Baylor and offered, in exchange for his freedom, to carry Baylor to the spot where Woods was murdered and his body hidden.  Baylor was unable to get his release on that condition, but Lafferty drew a plot of the place where Woods’ body was supposed to be hidden on the headwaters of the Dry Frio where his body was thrown in a ravine and covered with brush.

Several years later, his [Woods’] remains, which consisted of a skull and one leg, were found ten miles from the spot where they were supposed to be buried.  It was then that the remains were carried to Rocksprings, where they were identified by Ira Wheat as those of the murdered deputy.

Baylor later remarked that he knew some of the men who were implicated in the crime, but had insufficient evidence to bring about a conviction.  Baylor concluded by saying that there was no doubt in his mind that Woods had been murdered by Lafferty.  These men, no doubt, had Woods a prisoner and sent for Lafferty to come up the Frio and kill Woods, promising in return to help him out of his trouble.(5)

Stovall notes that Bill Chisum was a large cattle rancher in the area who had many legitimate business interests.

  1. See Documents & Notes for information from Hardin on Stovall’s use of “L—” for Lafferty in the book.
  2. If Lafferty was in jail in Uvalde for killing a suitor of his daughter, that information has not heretofore come to light.  In fact, no actually marriage information has been encountered for Lafferty, nor the births of any children.  He was imprisoned (Rusk Pennitentiary) perhaps between 1893-1891 for killing a U.S. Marshall in Yselta.
  3. Stovall has the story somewhat confused at this point.  Lafferty was convicted of murdering Ben Maples in September 1892, and for that crime he was sentenced to 75 years imprisonment.
  4. Stoval cites as his sources the following issues of Frontier Times Monthly:  Vols 5, 3, 14, 25, 15, 22, 6, 12.

Bad Breaks

December 4, 2008

Excerpted from Breaks of the Balcones, by Allan A. Stoval
Published by Firm Foundation Publishing House, Austin, Texas 1967

— In “Early Settlers in the Frio Canyon”

“Ben Maples was killed by a local badman, one Jim Lafferty, for which crime Lafferty was given a seventy-five year prison sentence.  Jim Lafferty’s brother, John, lived in one of Ben Maples’ houses and was a good citizen of the community.  He tried without success to persuade his brother Jim to move out of the settlement, knowing that he was connected with a gang of outlaws and horse thieves, which gang was, later on, to be broken up by the sheriffs of Edwards, Uvalde, and Kimble counties, together with members of the Texas Rangers.  Jim Lafferty killed Maples at the John Lafferty cabin and narrowly escaped being killed himself by one of Ben Maples’ sons.”

“Other men connected with this gang of rustlers were Alvin and Will Odle, Sarge C–, Lon and Jess Bass, and Bill Chisum.  The red-headed detective mentioned in another part of this record (1), later identified as Ranger Jim Woods, became, under pretense, a member of this gang and how he was killed and his body hidden in a lonely cave on the Dry Frio, is also a part of this record.”

“Dan MacMillan, a bad man himself, married one of Ben Maples girls.  After his marriage, he became a guard at the penitentiary where Jim Lafferty was being held.  MacMillan took advantage of his authority as prison guard to avenge his father-in-law’s death by ending the career of Jim Lafferty with a charge from his double-barreled shotgun.”

  1. — It’s unclear what “record” Stovall is referring to.  Perhaps the prison record or trial records of the Maples murder?  These records, which may have been borrowed by Stovall to write the book, have disappeared from the Texas State Archives, according to Donely Brice.

Background Information

December 4, 2008

1856 Indian Territory – 1896 Huntsville Prison, Williams Farm, Riverside, Walker County TX

Jim was the troublesome brother of John Henry.  The Lafferty/Cox Agreement gives his age as having been born in 1856, yet his prison records indicate that he was born in 1849.  There are no census records found (to date) that would corraborate either date.

Jim is well known to Lafferty/Cox researchers for having murdered Ben Maples, wife of Serilda Cox, in 1892 after a quarrel whose boundaries are a little vague.  Trial testimony points out a couple of things about Jim’s life — his brother states that “he had left the country before this to go to New Mexico, and had returned two days before the killing. ”  Additionally, John Henry testifies, “My brother was in the penitentiary at Rusk several years, and I did not see him.”

If Jim was born in 1856, he would have been about three years old at the time we believed that he lost his mother, who was likely killed or captured by the Comanches from the ranch along the Pendencia Creek.

Murder in Ysleta

December 2, 2008

Excerpted from Along the Rio Grande, by Tracy Hammond Lewis
Published in 1916 by Lewis Publishing Company
Accessed (full version) in GoogleBooks

“There are no better trail finders nor handier men with their guns in the South [than Texas Rangers]. At a hundred yards or more a man is invariably dead if a ranger judges his life a burden on the community. Outside of the realms of fiction there are few men able with a revolver to hit a quarter thrown up in the air, but there are more capable of punishing Uncle Sam’s currency in this fashion among the rangers than in the entire remainder of the Texas population.

As a rule they are natural detectives. Very small clues indeed frequently result In their solving the cases upon which they are working. An instance of this was told me by John Kelly in Douglas, Ariz.
Kelly was a ranger, and although he no longer holds his commission as such, his thoughts still live in the days when he was employed by the State. ”

I used to be stationed at Ysleta years ago,” he said, biting off a chew of plug cut, “when there wasn’t any railroads comin’ into El Paso, and when all freight had to be hauled in ‘Chihuahua trains,’ which is the same as prairie schooners, all the way from San Antonio. There used to be a lot of smugglin’ goin’ on along the Rio Grande, and it was up to us to keep the greasers and outlaws from doin’ it. One time we caught a gang with $500 worth of stuff.” He spit contemplatively and looked at me reflectively to see whether I was impressed with the size of the amount. “

One time a fellow named Jem Lafferty killed the marshal at Ysleta. He shot him through the neck. We found the marshal’s body lying on the ground and near it was a little piece of a bandana, clipped off by a bullet. We saved it and hunted for Jem. It took us some time, but we got him. He was still a-wearin’ of the handkerchief around his neck. The bit we had fitted into the part lost out of his.

He was convicted and sentenced to nine years in the pen.
—This was when John Henry Lafferty said — in trial transcripts — that his brother had been in Rusk Penitentary.  He must have been about 25 when he committed this crime (about 1882?).  Rusk did not begin accepting prisoners until January 1883.  This crime is referenced somewhat incorrectly in “Breaks of the Balcones”.  John said that his brother had recently been recently released from prison (1891-2) and had gone to New Mexico.  He had cousins living in New Mexico, whom he may or may not have know about — and members of his old gang were living there as well.

Later he killed another guy and got seventy-five years. He was about 50 then and never lived his sentence out.”

—This was referring to the murder of Ben Maples in 1892.