History: The Law and the Lawless – Part 2

By Dana Stubbs – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

This is the second part of the “Law and the Lawless” history piece featured last month. To read the first part, click here.

Rufus Highnote

Rufus Highnote was born in Navarro County, Texas. His parents and grandparents came to Texas during the Republic and settled in the Robertson district that is now Navarro County. When Rufus was a teenager, he hired on with a cattle drive. His experiences on that drive earned him respect from his elders.

On the trail one day, the herd lost some steers during a stampede so Rufe and several of his friends went after them. The 5 foot, 6 inch, young man, used wisdom, diplomacy, tricks, tenacity, moxie, and eventually a gun to wrangle the small herd away from a gang that claimed the cattle. He then returned the missing cows back to the main herd.

Rufus Highnote – Courtesy photo

After his experience on the range, he decided to try Fort Worth on for size. He was still just a green kid with no friends in this cowtown, so he ended up getting involved with the wrong crowd. Their uncouth, somewhat illegal way of life was not for him. His parents in Navarro County had brought him up well. In his youth he never gambled, drank or even swore an oath.

He decided to say goodbye to the cowtown ruffians, but they had other ideas. They attempted to bring the “Kid Parson,” as they called him, over to their way of living. One night at “Hell’s Half Acre” they got him in a gambling den to teach him to drink and gamble. They locked the door of the gambling house and it was on. Although he was badly beaten, the other side looked worse. The proprietor of the place was dead, and the others were cut and beaten as bad as the “Kid Parson.” 

After the fight in Fort Worth. he went back to his native home in Navarro County. He hired on as a farm hand with his aunt and uncle for a while but that was really too tame a life for the young man. He went to work as a deputy sheriff with Navarro County.

In 1881, Rufe killed a prisoner who was working on the roads of Navarro County to clear off a fine. The thief made an attempted to free himself from Rufe’s watchful eye only to be gunned down in the name of the law. A few months later, he killed a man in Fort Worth but it was deemed in self-defense.

Highnote Gun – Courtesy Photo

Ten years later, he was involved in a shootout with another Navarro county deputy. For some time there had been trouble between Deputy Highnote and Deputy Robert Cubley, Jr. It ended with a three-way duel between Highnote, Cubley and Highnote’s cousin, Calvin White. When it was all over, White’s right arm was perforated twice, and he was shot through the hand by Cubley.

Cubley was killed, but Highnote escaped unhurt. Highnote and White both had some of the best citizens of Corsicana to furnish funds for their bonds. After a number of other noted affairs he moved to other locations. He ended up in Wirt, Oklahoma. He has the distinction of being the only man to be hired as a sheriff of a county while incarcerated.

It has been written that many believed he had a very charmed life. He was in many “old west” gun fights. He spent many days in bed recuperating from those fights but never…until his last day on earth, did he receive a bullet wound. He claimed twenty-seven notches on his guns over his career that spanned nearly fifty years in law enforcement. He started as a deputy sheriff and went all the way up the ladder to US Deputy Marshal. He ran his own detective agency in Oklahoma and on the night he was killed he was working as a night watchmen.

He was killed by another deputy sheriff who had been sent to take away his guns. The sixty-year-old cowboy-lawman had outlived his ability to perform his duty as a competent lawman. He chose to fight to keep his guns on April 7, 1918 and lost. His remains were shipped to Corsicana and buried at the Cosgrove cemetery near his parents.

At the Corsicana Odyssey in 2021, Norman Stubbs preformed Rufus Highnote in first-person, and brought attention to the fact that when Rufus’ remains arrived in Corsicana it was noticed his hands had been shackled…today the mystery remains as to why.  

Norman Stubbs as Rufus Highnote – Courtesy photo

Clyde Barrow

The most wanted “bad man” of the twentieth century with ties to Navarro County was the notorious Clyde Barrow. He and his partner in crime, Bonnie Parker, visited the county on many occasions.

Clyde Barrow – Courtesy photo

Clyde was the nephew of Jim Barrow of Streetman, Frank Barrow of Eureka, and related to Tom Barrow of Corsicana. The couple’s crime spree during the Great Depression era was never hindered when they visited the local areas of Navarro County.

As Sheriff Pevehouse once said, “I never had the good luck…I mean the bad luck of running into them…mostly because I dodged them pretty good.”

That was not to say he never had any dealings with the gang. In fact, Raymond Hamilton spent several nights in the jail in Corsicana on his way to the penitentiary in Huntsville. At other times, Pevehouse escorted L. C. Barrow, Clyde’s younger brother, to Leavenworth Penitentiary a couple of times. He also took Clyde’s sister to a prison in the northeast.

Clyde may not have been the brightest boy on the block, but he learned early in his homicidal career the best way to stay ahead of the law was a fast dependable vehicle. His car of choice was the Ford V8.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow – Courtesy photo

Frank Barrow called Sheriff Pevehouse one time and told him that Clyde and another boy had driven to his home in Eureka in two separate cars. They were already gone, but they left one of the cars and he wanted it moved away from his house. It happened to be a brand new V8 Ford Coupe.

Pevehouse picked up the car at Frank Barrow’s home and took it to the jailhouse. The next morning he looked through the car and under the seat found a .38 pistol which had been “all prettied up;” the trigger guard and hammer was sawed off of the gun. That revolver is now located at the Ranger Museum in Waco.

Clyde Barrow and Raymond Hamilton stole a brand new Ford V-8 Tudor sedan from the driveway at 1528 W. Fifth Avenue in Corsicana. The home and car belonged to Claude Crowley who worked for Calkins & Dublin Ford dealers in Corsicana. This story has been written about many times with as many different tales of the unfolding events.

According to Sheriff Pevehouse, it happened this way: The car was spotted at a dance in Stringtown, Oklahoma, on August 5, 1932 by local law enforcement. Since one of the officers was from Texas (according to Pevehouse, Roane, Texas) and the car had Texas plates they decided to ask them what part of Texas were they from. However, as the lawmen approached the vehicle they were simply shot down. One deputy was killed and the sheriff was wounded and crippled for life.

“Wanted” poster for Bonnie and Clyde. – Courtesy photo

During the investigation, it was discovered that the car Barrow was driving was from Navarro County, so the Oklahoma law called Sheriff Pevehouse who confirmed the car was stolen from Corsicana. That is how Pevehouse go the story of the Stringtown shooting. When Pevehouse went through this car he found another pistol. He gave that pistol to Ted Hinton of Dallas. Hinton was the last survivor of the men who killed Clyde and Bonnie.

Mark Bedgood and Alicia Rogers as Clyde and Bonnie. – Courtesy photo

In last year’s Corsicana Odyssey, Mark Bedgood and Alicia Rogers performed as Clyde and Bonnie. They gave a more in-depth display of what the two “psychological misfits” learned about each other and themselves on their journey through a very lawless time.

John Wesley Hardin, Susannah (Dixson) Anderson and Jim Anderson

The most noted desperado of the twentieth century was portrayed by James Kirk in last year’s Corsicana Odyssey. At the seated performance at the Corsicana Public Library the air was drawn from the room as Kirk entered as the bad-boy preacher’s son John Wesley Hardin.

Dana Stubbs reenacted the oath the gravid Susanna Anderson made when the killer of her husband got away with murder. And Arron Rollins portrayed Jim Anderson, the son of Susanna who carried out the vow of his mother and avenged his father’s death.

Hardin’s roots in Navarro County are shallow, but none the less important. His mother’s people came to Navarro County with the Mercer Colony in 1848. However, after his mother married the parson Hardin, the couple moved on to other sections of the state. The young Johnny, as he is called by his close family, was the son of Parson Gip Hardin and his wife Mary Elizabeth Dixson Hardin. The father was also a teacher, so much of Johnny’s early education was in his father’s schools.

According to Johnny himself, he was a champ “town ball” player as he knew “how to knock the middle man, throw a hot ball and ply the bat.” He also liked to play marbles and rolly hole.

Aside from his father being a school teacher, he also had several aunts who supervised classes at different locations. He was a good student with the books, but also seemed to have a little hardheadedness. His biggest problem was he was as charming as he thought he was. He was smart, strong for his size, a little spoiled, and a lot cocky. One day, he had a scrape with one of his classmates where he pulled a knife and cut him up fairly bad. Of course, this was in self-defense. Years later this classmate, Charles Sloter, was hung by a mob.  

Hardin took to heart the changing times he was living through referred to as Reconstruction. It is believed he was aged fifteen years when he killed for the first time. That was when his real trouble started. He and his cousin had a “run in” with Mage Turner. A day or so later, Johnny and Mage had another confrontation which ended in Mage’s death. Union soldiers were on the lookout for the young Hardin, so he and his cousin confronted them in the woods. After a little chat (and some shooting), they left him alone.

After that event, his folks sent him from Polk County to Navarro County where he lived with his mother’s extended family, the Andersons. He taught school at Nash with his Aunt Susanna Dixson Anderson.

The influence the Anderson family had on Johnny and the rest of the family was a lasting one. He was not yet two years old when his uncle, William Nicks Anderson, was shot dead in Feb. 1855. The widow Anderson became very bitter and when her husband’s killer was acquitted, and she swore her unborn child would avenge its father’s death. She named this son, Doctor James Thomas Lee Buchanan Anderson; everyone called him Jim.

There had been threats against the Anderson family from William Love for over five years. Love was an old Native American fighter, Texas Ranger and surveyor who had settled in Navarro County years earlier. He nor his old friends liked the Mercer colonist coming in and buying land they had plans for.

Love claimed a few acres of land owned by Anderson through the Mercer Colony survey was his property and he made it very unpleasant for the Andersons. Anderson advised all his family to be patient and stay calm as he believed things would work out if given the time. However, Anderson and Love met on the road one day and the threats became a reality when guns were drawn and shots fired at each other. Anderson was mortally wounded but before he died, he made it home on horseback to tell what had happened.

By the time a trial was completed (it took three different dates and places), there was no evidence to prove who fired the death shot. The courthouse had been burned and people were too afraid to speak up as witnesses. The Andersons, Dixsons, Hardins, and Barekmans (family members of the Dixons) all adopted the axiom of “kill before being killed.” Johnny Hardin claimed he never killed anyone he didn’t believe was planning to kill him. That was simply keeping to this family’s tradition.

After Susannah Anderson’s constant threat of revenge, a paranoid Love built himself a fortress on his property. It took seventeen years but the day finally came. Jim Anderson, some of his older brothers and cousins met at the same place where William Nicks Anderson had been shot. They waited for Love to come by.

As Love approached the spot, Jim realized there was someone riding on the same horse with Love. When Love grasped what was about to take place he begged for the life of his companion. Against his better judgement, Jim let the boy slide off the back of the horse before he kept his mother’s promise, May 19, 1873. The relatives involved in this event headed for New Mexico to let things cool off.

Seven months later, December 12, 1873, William Nicks Anderson, Jr., son of Susannah Dixson Anderson, was found dead in the middle of the road near his home with a bullet in his back. Then Thomas J. Anderson, stepson of Susannah Dixson Anderson, died from mysterious reasons on January 16, 1874.

Johnny Hardin called his relatives back to Texas to help him celebrate his birthday in May, 1874. Johnny had just helped his partner in the cattle business, Jim Taylor, in DeWitt County concerning a problem with the Sutton gang. Now he and Taylor were driving a large herd of beeves to market with plans to pass through Comanche County where his parents were living. There was a celebration going on in Comanche, Texas, as they were about to hold that county’s fair and big horse races. This could be a good time for all.

Jim Anderson didn’t really want to go to Comanche as he was worried about how things could turn out. He knew it was his .38 bullet pulled from Love’s body that was the kill shot. However, with money in their pockets they all decided to take the chance and headed to Comanche.

Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charlie Webb got wind that the Hardin gang would be in Comanche, and he decided it would be a great career moved for himself to bring the Hardin gang to justice. He headed that way.

The story told was that someone, probably Jim Anderson, alerted Johnny that the Brown County Deputy was looking for him. Johnny went looking for Webb and that ended Webb’s search. With Webb’s death everyday life changed for the Dixson clan.

At the end of this devastating incident, Johnny and his partner, Jim Taylor, escaped but, Joe Hardin (Johnny’s brother) and Tom and Bud Dixson (Johnny’s cousins) were captured and hung by vigilantes and Ham Anderson (Johnny’s cousin and Jim’s brother) and Alec Barekman (Johnny’s cousin) were killed in a shootout with the sheriff’s posse; with the exception of Taylor, all were grandsons of William Dixson who came to Navarro County with the Mercer Colony.

Johnny Hardin moved to Florida, was arrested and carried back to Texas. He went to prison at Huntsville, Texas, and became the superintendent of Bible school for his fellow inmates. He studied law and passed the bar not long after his release. Then he moved to El Paso where on August 19, 1895 he was murdered by an off-duty policeman named Selman.

After the Comanche County event, Jim Anderson moved back to Navarro County where he lived out his life with his family in the Dawson area satisfied he had performed his responsibility as a dutiful son by keeping his mother’s promise to avenge his father’s death.

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Categories: History