May 17, 2001
Murder in Marfa
By Jack D. McNamara
“Rangers Kill Bad Mexican at Marfa” is the headline of an Alpine Avalanche newspaper article dated July 2, 1914. The article was reprinted from the Marfa "New Era" news paper and now resides in the Sul Ross State University Archives, where it was recently discovered by researchers, including Dr Paul Wright.
The deceased is described as “Carlos Morales Wood, a Mexican editor of the ‘Patria Mexicana’ published at Valentine.” The editor was shot down in the street in front of the Palace Drugstore while “resisting arrest.”
“State Rangers Ira Cline and H. L. Roberson” had an arrest warrant for Wood, said the newspaper, adding that Wood had “accused rangers, soldiers and Americans . . . of being murderers, cut throats and thieves.” These articles incited riot and created prejudice, said the Avalanche.
So the Rangers shot him down with five to nine pistol shots.
Ira Cline went on to become Presidio County Sheriff in early 1918. He was a leader of the relief to the attack by Mexican raiders on the Brite Ranch.
Roberson had already had a full career of murder in El Paso in 1911, where he was indicted but not convicted. In late 1914 Roberson killed two American citizens, Febronio Calanche and Rodrigo Barragan, as they slept near Comedor. Roberson then went up river a short distance to Pilares and killed a 16-year-old boy, Sixto Quintana.
The year 1914 had barely expired before Roberson had killed Foote Boykin and Walt Sitter, the teenage son of well known rancher and Ranger Joe Sitter (later killed also).
These murders were executed at a corral in Sierra Blanca. Ultimately a certain outrage was mustered and Roberson was indicted, tried and convicted in the 34th District Court in El Paso.
But the conviction was overturned and Roberson’s career resumed its advance. He became Sheriff of Sterling County. In 1923, he was shot to death by irate constituents.
There is much more to this story in a privately published revised edition of Pancho Villa Days at Pilares by Joyce E. Means (1994). This weekend Means will lead a tour of the bloody 1910–1920 border area in the upper Big Bend. (Means can be reached at 520-797-0580 or in Van Horn at the Country Inn 915-283-2225.)
While Means is not a professional writer, she is native to this country. And she has been researching these events for a quarter century. This research is priceless because she has recorded voices which would never be otherwise heard or read.
Other excellent recent books are available, such as Revolution on the Rio Grande by Glenn Justice, Texas Western Press (1992) and Intervention by John S. D. Eisenhower, W. W. Norton (1993). The revised picture which emerges is not a pretty one. Particularly appalling is the murder by Rangers of 15 Mexican American men at Porvenir in 1918. The Texas Rangers matched the atrocities committed by Mexican revolutionaries in brutality. Glenn Justice records the admonitions, investigations and ultimate reduction and reorganization of the Rangers after 1919.
But the record so far does not reveal any justice for Carlos Morales Wood, the “inciter of riot and prejudice” shot down in the streets of Marfa by lawmen. Only words, not physical acts of violence, were alleged against editor Wood up until the time the arrest warrant was presented. One account recorded by Means says Wood was unarmed when he was shot nine times in the back.
The Rangers claimed self-defense.
“Los renches” (or “rinches”) enjoyed criminal impunity because they were working for corrupt overlords on both sides of a border during the turmoil of revolution and counter-revolution. Good citizens stood by in Marfa while a Mexican editor was murdered. At least five more murders were committed by Roberson within the next six months.
When men are killed for truthful words and justice is silent, we are all made cowards. •
(Also publilshed in the Big Bend Sentinel of Marfa, Texas May 17, 2001.)