The Greer Gang operated out of Bonito City in Lincoln County from 1900 to 1917. Their leader was John Franklin Greer, gun slinger, train robber, gambler, soldier of fortune, and ladies man.
Green Berry Greer, John Franklin’s father, departed the area of Clay County Missouri in 1881 headed for Texas. His mother, Mary Ann Adams was the daughter of Martha James, a relative of the Jesse James family. Green and his family, except for John Franklin, arrived in Lincoln County in 1899. John Franklin Greer lingered in Pecos, Texas to close the sale of the hardware store belonging to Green Greer.
John began gambling in Pecos, but abruptly departed under heavy gunfire. Two angry gamblers followed him toward New Mexico Territory where John ambushed and killed his tormentors. Safely settled in Lincoln County, John took up gambling in the boomtowns from Bonito to White Oaks.
After a shooting near the Parsons Mine in the spring of 1910, he fled to El Paso. John Franklin and a gambling accomplice named John W. Gates pulled several robberies in Texas.
On 23 December 1910, John Franklin Greer robbed the prize of the GH&SA Railroad, The Sunset Limited passenger train No. 10. Infuriated railroad agents hunted his gang forcing them into Mexico where they joined Francisco Madera’s army of revolution.
John darted into Texas to rob a street car which was part of the rail transport system in El Paso. John robbed C. E. Graham, a wealthy merchant, as he departed a car at the Campbell Street interchange. John Franklin shot and killed Graham during the robbery. John Franklin and John Gates quickly returned to Chihuahua to rejoin armed Mexican revolutionists.
During the battle of Casas Grandes, John Franklin was shot in the hip and in the head. His friend, John Gates, loaded him in a wagon and hauled him to Columbus, New Mexico where he received medical attention and slowly recovered. The gang broke up and planned to meet in Deming, New Mexico at a later date.
John Franklin rode to the Silver City area where in August of 1911, he and unknown accomplices held up the motor car carrying Superintendent J. M. Sully of the Chino Mine Company who reportedly carried the mine payroll.
A posse tracked John Franklin to Kneeling Nun Hill, but John surprised the posse and relieved them of their horses, guns and pocket money. John swiftly rode in the direction of Deming to rejoin his friend, John W. Gates.
Upon his arrival in Deming, John Franklin discovered his friend had been arrested and held in the Deming jail. John ventured into the jail pretending to be a ranch hand seeking work, allowing him to survey the jail’s layout.
John Franklin rode to the Greer’s San Andres Angora goat camp near Sheep Mountain where his brother, William Randall, attended fifteen hundred angora goats. John Franklin and William Randall departed the next day, destined for Deming.
John entered the jail and quickly stuck a gun in the face of Sheriff Dwight R. Stephens. Soon, the three bandits relaxed deep in the timberland on the VXT Ranch. Sheriff Stephens pursued the gang, and other posses formed as far away as Socorro and old Engle. After a week of hunting for the gang, Stephen’s posse cornered the Greer Gang in a steep canyon named Sandy Draw.
William Greer, rifle in hand, took a position two hundred feet away. John Franklin Greer and John Gates approached the posse on foot pretending to surrender. As they neared Sheriff Stephen’s horsemen, John Franklin Greer drew his pistols firing. Gates broke and ran. John Franklin, shooting from his hips, killed Deputy Smithers and Deputy Hall. Then he fell dead from a swarm of stinging bullets.
The posse captured Gates that same hour. He would soon die with a rope around his neck. Two other alleged members of the gang were arrested in El Paso but released for lack of evidence. William Randall Greer escaped, but his horse died after two miles of hard galloping from a bullet wound in the flank. William Randall Greer walked home to the distant Lincoln County.
William Randall almost died from exposure during the jeopardous journey over a desolate landscape. He chattered deliriously when a rancher found him near Carrizozo hiding in carrizo grass. The county doctor secretly attended him, family friends nursed him, then hid him from the intense search in Lincoln County by avenging angry lawmen.
William departed Lincoln County before World War I began. He dressed as a woman and was accompanied by Bragg relatives on the train from Carrizozo to El Paso. He worked as a ranch hand in Texas before traveling to the east coast. He joined the army during WWI.
On his deathbed in California William Randall confessed to a military officer named Captain William B. Guion that he rode with the Greer Gang lead by John Franklin Greer. His body was shipped to Carrizozo from San Diego via the Sunset Limited, the same train that carried the body of his brother, John Franklin Greer, years earlier, from Deming, New Mexico.
His death was recorded under the assumed name of Fred W. Lindsay in 1917. The very last of the last horseback outlaws passed into history.
Sources: Greer family oral history; Greer family letters; Newspaper accounts in the Carrizozo News; El Paso Herald; El Paso Morning Times; El Paso Times; Silver City Enterprise; Hillsboro Sierra Free Press; The Deming Headlight; The Deming Graphic; Death certificate of Fred M. Lindsay--alias of William R. Greer; Military records of William R. Greer; Letters from Governor William C. McDonald dated 16 April 1912 and 19 April 1912 addressed to Green Berry Greer.
C. W. Barnum ŠJuly 2001-2006