Wild West Ancestors

My Wild West Ancestors, the Richards.

Some of the Richards Ranch Cowboys.

One thing is for certain, in researching a family history, you are likely to find anything and everything you see in a movie. While flipping through TV channels the other day, I caught a few scenes from Pale Rider starring one of my all-time favorite actors, Clint Eastwood. This particular scene was the fact that some crooked men had cut off the creek supplying water to some other settlers and now this meant drastic action had to be taken. You just cannot sit back idly when your livelihood is being threatened. Hmmm, this is all too personally familiar…my families wild west ancestors story follows:

One of my great-great grandfathers, Ephraim West Richards was born in 1850. He was the fifth of thirteen children born to the rough and tumble and very successful Richards family in Texas. The Richards family had a large cattle ranch in Texas – but that story will be told at another time.

In around 1883, Ephraim traveled with his wife Hattie and their two children on a 450 mile trek from Coleman, Texas to near White Oaks, Lincoln County, New Mexico and started his own cattle ranch, reportedly called The Moon Ranch. Hattie gave birth to their third child there in November 1883.

It just so happens that Lincoln County was the same place Pat Garrett was elected Sheriff in Nov 1880, and the Lincoln County Court House was where Billy the Kid was being held and where he shot and killed his two guards in 1881 while escaping.

This was pretty wild territory at the time and the ranchers there fought over various things, one of them being water. According to the Albuquerque Journal of 16 August 1884:

Wild West Ancestors are intersting to find.

Ephraim West Richards

“DOUBLE MURDER – TWO RANCHMEN WAYLAID AND KILLED NEAR WHITE OAKS: Yesterday morning, while E. W. Richards, a prominent stockman of this county, living some ten miles east of here, and one of his employees, Henry Lackey, were going to Lackey’s ranch, some five or six miles south of Las Tablas. They were fired upon by George Dickey, James M. Bennett and Edward T. Bennett, lying in ambush. Richards was killed instantaneously and his horse shot in the head. Henry Lackey was shot in the bowels and lived several hours. Long enough to tell who his murderers were. Lackey’s horse was killed. Richards’ horse after being wounded, came to the ranch, some five or six miles distant and so brought the news that something was wrong. Henry Pringle immediately went in search of Richards and Lackey, and found the latter wounded, and immediately started for White Oaks for a physician, but Lackey died before his arrival. Dickey is said to have remarked to Lackey that he killed Richards. After the killing, the three assassins rode off saying they were going to Lincoln to surrender themselves: The affray occurred over some water location that Dickey had made, shutting the water off of Richards’ location below.”

Another article from the Lincoln County Leader, dated 23 August 1884 states:

“FEARFUL KILLING – TWO SOULS SENT HENCE WITHOUT WARNING: On Friday afternoon of last week, after the Leader had gone to press, a courier rode into town after Dr. Lane, and reported that 32 miles East from White Oaks, and 4 or 5 miles up the Capitan mountain side from Las Tablas, two well-known men named E. W. Richards and Henry Lackey, had been waylaid and killed. Of course excitement surged high, and suspense attending the receipt of particulars was painful to those acquainted with the victims. The report proved but too true. Richards and Lackey had ridden out, doubtless, apprehending no harm, and while Richards was sent without notice to meet his maker, Lackey lingered only about an hour, but sufficient to tell who ambushed them and the manner of killing. The assassins were George Dickey and James and Thomas Bennett. After the killing, the men named went to Lincoln, where they gave themselves up to the authorities and were brought back to the scene of the unfortunate event, where an examination was had before Esquire Aguayo of Lincoln.

“The witnesses for the Territory were – Paxson, – Green, Josh Cummings, George Pringle, – McBride and others. Those for the defense were George Dickey, Thomas and James Bennett, Melvin Richardson and John Hurley.

“The witnesses for the prosecution testified that at the time of the killing they were employed by Richards to build a house on the spring located by Henry Lackey, and upon which was a cabin occupied by Richards’ men while building said house. That on Friday morning about 8 or 9 o’clock Richards rode up with McBride, where they were at work. Henry Lackey told Richards that the water had been partly cut off that morning. Cummings remarked that the steers broke through where he had been hauling logs, and perhaps choked off the water. Richards told Lackey to mount his horse and together they would ride over to see what was the matter, which the proceeded to do. A short time after they left firing was heard, but the men supposed R. and L. were shooting game, but within half an hour Richards’ horse was seen unmounted and was discovered to be wounded, which excited suspicion that something was wrong, and the men started up the cañon. A mile and a half up they found Lackey’s horse dead in the neighborhood of a cabin owned by Tom Bennett situated on his ranch, when they heard Lackey’s groan and 30 steps distant they found him, and asked him who did the shooting? Lackey replied: ‘George Dickey, Thomas and James Bennett.’ ‘Where is Richards?’ was the next question. Lackey replied, ‘He is killed.’ ‘Where is he?’ ‘Right over there,’ but was not able to point the direction. ‘Who shot you?’ ‘The Bennett Boys; they waylaid and killed us.’

“DEFENSE – George Dickey said that the Bennetts and himself went up to Tom Bennett’s ranch Thursday evening and worked until night – that on Friday morning about 8 or 9 o’clock, after re-staking their horses for fresh grass, they were returning to their camp and heard firing down the canon, as the supposed about the cabin, and about the time they got to their camp Richards hove in sight, on horseback, with gun presented at him. He, Dickey, instantly fired both barrels of his shot gun at him, and R. returning the fire, one shot wounding the skin between the thumb and for finger, producing some numbness of his hand. The Bennett Brothers, armed with Winchester rifles, fired almost simultaneously at Richards and Lackey. After they had fired the second shot Lackey shouted: ‘O, boys, don’t shoot any more.’ Dickey and one of the Bennett boys went to him and found him lying down with cocked revolver in his hand, which he, Dickey, took from him, let down the hammer, and put it in Lackey’s holster, Lackey exclaiming, ‘Boys, we did wrong. We came here to jump ranches. Boys we’ve done wrong. For God sake do something for me or let me die.’ They then moved him close up to their camp, and were proceeding to take him to his camp, but he turned so sick when they raised him up that he said: ‘Lay me down, boys.’ They placed him on a pallet made of a pair of Tom Bennett’s blankets, and then went to within sight and hearing of where Richards’ men were building his house, but could see or hear no one at work. They went to a Mexican’s, near Tablas, but could not prevail on the Mexicans to go up to the woods, as they were afraid of Richards, he having threatened to kill anybody who came to the water and timber where his hands were at work. They then went home and immediately proceeded to Lincoln and surrendered.

“Both Bennetts testified to the same effect, except that Richards had before warned them that he didn’t want to kill them, but if they didn’t give him a wide berth he would do so – that he was going to jump Mell Richardson’s ranch at the troughs as he didn’t believe he was holding it lawfully.

“Melvin Richardson testified that he heard a conversation, during court week, about a year ago, between George Dickey and Richards, in which Dickey stated to Richards: ‘Richards I don’t want to kill you, but I don’t want any more of your shot gun practices about me.’ Richards replied: ‘You, or I, one have got to bite the dust.’

“John Hurley testified to the same conversation, which was affirmed by Dickey. This had reference to Richards driving Dickey with a shot gun from jumping one of his, R’s, middle ranches over a year ago.

“Richards was killed instantly, his body being perforated by 12 buckshot, which entered his right shoulder and breast, George Dickey firing the weapon. His right arm was also broken.

“Lackey was hit by a rifle ball from a Winchester rifle, the ball penetrating the left side of his abdomen between the navel and edge of hip bone, and lodging in the body. He lived half an hour after being discovered. Lackey’s horse was killed by Winchester and shot guns, and found 30 yards from where Lackey lay.

“Seventeen steps from where Richards fell was an ambush with evident traces of a man’s footsteps behind it, and the tops of the brush, 3 feet high, bore evidence that they had been shot off by shot. Thirty-two steps southerly from Richards was found another ambush, with foot-marks behind of two persons, as reported by Sheriff Poe, Dr. Lane and other witnesses. A rifle ball was lodged in a tree from the direction of the two men in ambush. Richards’ horse was wounded on the right side of the forehead by buck shot. A rifle ball, evidently fired at the horse, lodged in an intervening tree. Lacky was found within a few steps of Dickey and Bennett’s camp, and Richards about 50 yards east from the camp.

“The justice held the prisoners to answer before a Grand Jury in bonds of $1,000 each, which bonds were at once given and the prisoners went at large.

‘Richards was 33 years and 1 day old, and Lackey was aged about 20. Richards leaves a widow and 3 children, the oldest about 5 years old, and the youngest at the breast. Lackey was unmarried.

“The prisoners are all young men ranging in years among the 20’s and 30’s.”

There is another article from that time, going into more or less similar accounts of what happened. The bottom line here is that all three of the men who ambushed and killed my great-great grandfather and Henry Lackey were acquitted of their crime.

Now….you may think that is the end of the story, but it is not.

Wild West Ancestors leave descendants.

Lisa and cousin Mike Crisp

After about a year, Hattie got re-married the Ranch Foreman, John William Crisp and they had two sons. They ended up moving to southern California. I recently met their descendant – my ½ second cousin and we swapped stories.

Secondly, there is another story floating around in the Richards family from those cousins who are still living in Texas. The story goes like this: That two of Ephraim’s brothers, Tom and Bill, hearing that their brother had been murdered, went to Lincoln County and purchased back some of his horses and other things from his estate. Not much else was mentioned by them, except that it has been passed down through the generations that when Tom and Bill got back to Texas, there was some statement to the effect that “there was no SOB in New Mexico alive that killed any Richards.”

I looked into this last statement and found an article that one of the Bennett brothers went out one night, as he thought he heard some rustlers, and he was murdered. The murder was never solved.


Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge