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Post Finus Gilliland and the Murder Steer, Revisited
Created by John Eipper on 09/11/18 1:50 PM

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Finus Gilliland and the Murder Steer, Revisited (Richard Hancock, USA, 09/11/18 1:50 pm)

Gary Moore (7 September) asked for more information on the killing of Henry Harrison Powe that occurred in a dispute about the ownership of a brindle bull at a neighborhood roundup on January 28, 1890, at Leoncito in northern Brewster County, Texas.

Finus Gilliland, representing the cattle ranchers Dubois and Wentworth, shot Powe to death. Powe was a one-armed Confederate veteran who tried to hold his horse and aim his pistol with his one good arm. He was an expert shot with a pistol, but his lunging horse spoiled his aim and cost him his life. The roundup cowboys, stunned by this killing and uncertain as to who owned the bull, castrated him and branded him with Murder on one side and Jan. 28, 90 on the other and turned him loose. The Murder Steer reportedly appeared thereafter at scenes of violence throughout the area for years afterward.

Ranger Thalis Cook and another ranger, James Putnam, encountered Finus Gilliland a few days later in a pass thorough the Glass mountains. Because Gilliland had grown a beard, the rangers failed to recognize him. As he passed, Gilliland fired at Cook, killing his horse. Cook was able to kill Gilliland's horse. Putnam's mount stampeded, leaving Cook and Gilliland to shoot it out from behind the bodies of their respective mounts. Cook was able to hit Gilliland between the eyes when he raised his head to fire.

As a postscript to this affair, my father told of an armed encounter between his father W. B. and a relative of Finus Gilliland who had allegedly threatened Grandfather Hancock because, as the son-in-law of the deceased Powe, he was the lone remaining adult male representative of the Powe family. The sheriff of Brewster County at the time was J.B. Gillett, who later wrote Six Years with the Texas Rangers. J. B. Gillett warned my grandfather that he had to release this man from jail and give him back his pistol, but told W. B. that he should accost him as soon as he left the jail. When he did this, this Gilliland elected to avoid a pistol duel with W. B. by leaving town on a train that happened to be passing through town at that moment, never to be seen in Alpine again.

The Texas folklorist, J. Frank Dobie in his book, The Longhorns, also wrote about the Murder Steer which was said to have wandered on the range for years. He told how the cowboys in the bunkhouse at the Dubois and Westworth ranch one night saw the bull's head through an open window looking for that brand of horror traced on his own side. This story has been repeated in many Western magazines and has also appeared on TV several times.

JE comments:  Want more?  Of course you do!  Back in 2010, Richard Hancock also discussed his ancestors' history in Alpine, with references to Dobie's book and the Murder Steer.  It is worth a re-read:


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