Welcome to Pecos County, Texas
By Covey Bean, American Staff Writer-Odessa American Newspaper Sunday December 27, 1964
Fort Stockton-The law was a long time coming to the rocky hills and arid brush country that is now Pecos County, Texas.
When it did, according to legend, it rode a big black horse, wore a six-shooter on it's hip and went by the unlikely name of "Dudley." At the turn of the century, Pecos County stretched from Coyanosa to Sanderson, nearly 200 miles of desolate, almost desert terrain. This was the territory made famous by Judge Roy Bean and his "Law West of the Pecos." Some of the old judge's orders are still on file in the courthouse at Fort Stockton.
The railroad was pushing into West Texas then, bringing with it hundreds of rough-and-tumble laborers mostly of Mexican descent, who made it possible for men like Dudley S. Barker to earn their livings with their guns.
Dudley Barker was sheriff of Pecos County for 22 years, from 1904 until 1926. During that period, law and order came to stay. "He brought it with him and he kept it," says Miles Jones, an old-time Pecos County cowhand who is now a probation officer in Odessa. No one seems to know exactly how Barker came to Fort Stockton. Some say he arrived in answer to a newspaper advertisement placed by local officials who were desperately trying to fill the vacant sheriff's office. Barker filled it well. He was the county's ninth sheriff and he served 11 terms. It was a hazardous job and Barker, it seems, was acutely aware of it.
"Dud" Barker was no greenhorn when he rode into brawling little Fort Stockton to ask for a badge. At the age of 23, he had joined Company B Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers. He served 2 years as a Ranger, 1897-98, and his company fought in a bloody San Saba County range war in '97. The story goes that Barker had retired from the Rangers to live on a small ranch near Sanderson when the sheriff's job lured him back to his business.
Barker, old-timers recall, was an extremely handsome man. He stood just under 6 feet tall and weighted more than 200 pounds. He always wore a black hat and coat, they say, and was never without the tool of his trade-a gun. No one cares to estimate the number of men who died by it, but there were many.
Not only did Barker survive countless gun battles, but he was never even wounded during his long career as sheriff. The fact that he did survive is a tribute to his own caution and knowledge of his trade.
"He would never walk on the sidewalk," recalls James W. Stidham, 74, a retired mechanic who moved to Fort Stockton in 1916. "He always walked in the middle of the street, and always sat with his back to the wall." Jones, who knew the sheriff even earlier in his career, remembers: "He was constantly watching, looking from side to side. Even when he was standing talking to you."
Barker was wary, but not afraid. The outcome of his most talked about gunfight is officially recorded in the findings of Justice of the Peace. W. H. Crawford:
"The Mexicans were drunk." wrote Judge Crawford, "and had taken a pistol away from Tom Scott, constable, and had shot at him three times. Sheriff D. S. Barker went in pursuit of the Mexicans and had a shooting fight with said Mexicans." The peace justice further found that Francisco Salinas died of a pistol wound; Prudencio Gonzalez died of a rifle or pistol bullet; Edwardo Gonzalez died of a shotgun wound and Jesus Orenda died a of a gunshot wound in the left arm and side. The fight occurred Nov. 8, 1912 and old timers insist the death toll was even higher. They say as many as nine men were waiting for Barker just north of what is now downtown Fort Stockton. Some were wounded, the story goes and fled to die on the prairie.
Jones recalls that Barker besides a single pistol, always carried a Winchester on his saddle and later, when he brought one of the first automobiles to the city, mounted a rifle and a shotgun inside it. Barker became locally famous for his determined enforcement of prohibition, which came to Texas during World War I. "This is when my hell began," Barker scrawled in his record book in 1916. The notation was followed by the names of nine men jailed for selling liquor. Many more were to join the list as Barker made Fort Stockton as "dry" as the land around it. "He wasn't a prohibitionist," says current Pecos County Sheriff C. S. (Pete) Ten Eyck," but he was for enforcing the law. Barker took his job seriously and setbacks rankled him.
"Had a good case against this man," he wrote in his record book beside the name of an accused bootlegger, "and 12 of our finest citizens saw fit to turn him loose."
Barker's records, such as they were, reflect that he meted out his own brand of justice according to his own convictions. Many a man found himself behind bars for the offense of "raising hell." Barker jailed "Bill Ikababb from the Pecos" because as the sheriff wrote it simply, he was "a bad man."
"He was THE sheriff" recalls the old mechanic Stidham respectfully. "He ran this town." Bill Cope, 77, who is still a sheriff's deputy, worked for Barker as early as 1911. He remembers one gunfight in Fort Stockton's Old Riggs Hotel. Barker, Cope relates, was called to quell a disturbance. He found an armed, drunken cowboy waiting for him. "He had a shotgun," Cope recalls. 'He pointed it at Dud.' It was too bad for him when he did." Cope says Barker was armed only with a single six shooter. "I heard him say he wouldn't hire a man who wore two guns," the old lawman says. A Fort Stockton resident since 1900 Cope's recollections are vague.
Barker, who was finally defeated in 1926, moved to ALPINE where he lived until his death of natural causes, in June 1952, at the age of 78. His occupation was listed as "Sheriff, retired."
Last updated: Wednesday, April 04, 2007 09:33 PM
Copyright 2009 by Eddie Cope