History Features

Death on the Line

The first Ranger Force death along the Texas-Mexico border.

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Even an everyday call to investigate cow stealing could spark violence that catapulted a Texas Ranger into the halls of death. This first look at Bob Alexander’s latest tome brings you the story of a brave man caught in the crossfire of King Ranch borderland politics—William Emmett Robuck, the first Ranger Force enlistee to be murdered at the Rio Grande’s edge.

William Emmett Robuck’s genealogical family tree was fashioned from sturdy oak. Service in the Confederacy had claimed the life of his paternal grandfather. Emmett’s father, Elias, was a first-rate stockman, having early on gathered and trailed cattle into the faraway Rocky Mountain country while but a lad of 16. Emmett’s uncle, Tully Robuck, likewise was a Texas cattleman from Caldwell County southeast of Austin.

Emmett came into the world on July 27, 1877. Tallying the number of Whitetail deer he bagged or weighing the strings of catfish he pulled from the San Marcus River cutting through Caldwell County is unworkable. There are quantifiable truths, however. As he marched toward maturity, Emmett became quite handy with firearms and morphed into a top-hand cowboy, though he preferred calling himself a stockman. As an adult, he stood just under six feet tall, looking out from beneath his sweat-stained Stetson with steel-blue eyes. Emmett sandwiched between whetting his outdoor skills the classroom art of learning to read and write. He also developed the ability to speak Spanish.

His bilingual ability would serve him well in his newfound job. At 23, Emmett became a Texas Ranger—a South Texas Ranger. Emmett had enlisted in the Ranger Force’s Company A, captained by James Abijah Brooks, and was assigned to a detachment at the extreme southern tip of Texas near Brownsville, Cameron County. Company A headquarters was 100 miles north, in Alice, 45 miles due west of Corpus Christi.

Much of the sparsely populated country between Alice and Brownsville—sometimes called the Wild Horse Desert—was dominion of the legendary King Ranch. There was an extraordinary linkage between South Texas’s gigantic King Ranch and the Texas Rangers. The understanding, though not reduced to writing, was reciprocal. The Ranger management team in Austin and its allied elected officials could count on King Ranch hierarchy to come through in times of political or pecuniary crisis. Likewise, when needed or perceived to be needed at the King Ranch, Rangers would answer the call, riding to the rescue, saving the day with Colt’s six-shooters at the hip, Winchesters in saddle scabbards and warrants of authority in hand.

The accord was not necessarily inappropriate. Cow stealing was cow stealing, no matter who owned the cow. During the springtime of 1902, most especially in the gargantuan El Sauz (sometimes El Saenz) pasture stretching to near the Cameron County line, sharp-eyed King Ranch bookkeepers and well-seasoned vaqueros noticed the herd was lessening—rather than growing. Cow thieves were about. Rangers were needed.

Captain Brooks was in receipt of a telegram—from the governor: “Send three Rangers to the King Ranch and investigate.” Riding from camp near Brownsville on May 15, 1902, Sgt. A.Y. Baker and Pvts. Harry J. Wallis and Emmett Robuck sallied forth to make their inquiries and, hopefully, catch some cow thieves.

At the El Sauz pasture, they were joined by cowboy Jesse Miller acting as guide. The Rangers all so soon encountered Reyes Silguero, who claimed to be a King Ranch fence rider working the El Sauz. The Rangers were suspicious. Fence riders were tasked with riding the fence line. In this instance, Silguero was at a loss to explain what he was doing over three miles away from any fence whatsoever. Private Wallis would later swear: “We thought that he was there either as a spy for thieves or he was there looking out from some big unbranded calves.”

Fearing Silguero would warn...

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