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William J. McDonald "one riot, one ranger"
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"No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that's in the right and keep a comin'." William J. McDonald 1852-1918

Mention of McDonald's name made the pulses of good Texans beat quicker and the feet of outlaws move faster. --from
Famous Texans by J. A. Rickard

Texas Ranger Captain William Jess (Bill) McDonald survived countless shooting scrapes--including the legendary gun fight in Quanah with a Childress sheriff--to die of pneumonia in Wichita Falls at age 65. But during the lifetime of this remarkable figure from the days of the city of Quanah's infancy, the pages of Texas' history were emblazoned with tales of his courage and grit that are as alive today as they were a century ago.

McDonald's brilliant 30-year law enforcement career began in Hardeman County just as the toddling city of Quanah was taking its first steps on its 100-year journey to the present.

The son of Major Enoch and Eunice Durham McDonald, Bill was born on September 28, 1852 in Mission, grew up in Mineola, met and married Miss Rhoda Isabel Carter in January of 1876, and moved to Wichita County in 1883.

Soon after, he came to Hardeman County and settled on land near Wanders Creek. The county was then home base for a multitude of cattle thieves, gunmen, and other desperate characters, as was the nearby Indian Territory.

Appointed as a deputy sheriff, the long, lean lawman quickly gained a reputation for his effective record of bringing law and order to the Panhandle, No-Man's Land, and the Cherokee Strip, as he led numerous raids to clean up the country. His bold tactics rid the county of the Brookins Gang when he chased them to their hideout on Pease River after they make the mistake of stealing horses from him.

It was said of the mild-mannered, gentle-spoken lawman that he "would charge hell with a bucket of water," and that he could have a pair of handcuffs on a criminal before they could offer resistance. The man led a charmed life--no bullet could touch him, legend said. He rose from deputy sheriff to be a special Ranger, and soon afterward was made a Deputy U.S. Marshall.

A man with McDonald's reputation could not be long ignored, and in January of 1891 Texas Governor James P. Hogg rewarded McDonald by appointing him Captain of Company B, Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers.

This most famous and feared lawman in the history of Hardeman County--and perhaps the entire state of Texas--went on to inspire generations of Texas Rangers and did more to foster and preserve the Rangers' "one riot, one Ranger" credo than any other man. Without a doubt, had that December, 1893 shoot-out never taken place, the stories of Capt. McDonald would still cover the pages of countless history books. Guide to President Theodore Roosevelt on his famous Big Wolf Hunt, and later a bodyguard for President Woodrow Wilson, McDonald's niche in history was assured.

But the shoot-out did occur. And no matter how many times the tale is retold, it never loses any of its dramatic and chilling power to enthrall its listeners. The captivating truth of that fatal gunfight makes fictional tales pale in comparison.

In the 1958 Hardeman County Centennial Edition of the Quanah Tribune-Chief, Centennial Editor Bill Neal gives his most hair-raising account of the 1893 gunfight.

Fickle Fate frowned on the Childress Sheriff that cold gray December day in 1893.

The old Fort Worth and Denver engine belched billows of sooty smoke as it chugged laboriously into the Quanah station that afternoon. But it was 10 minutes late. Too late.

And the sheriff had already stopped one of Capt. Bill McDonald's .45 slugs. He caught the train alright, but he had to be carried to his last ride.

If the engineer had poured a little more coal to his machine, the sheriff, John Pierce Matthews, would have stepped jauntily aboard and lived to fight another day.

But "ifs" don't count, and Matthews and Texas Ranger McDonald, the feared lawman of this area, crossed trails near the depot which produced the most famous fireworks ever to occur in Quanah.

Previously the two men had had trouble over an incident involving Joe Beckham, sheriff of Motley County, who had absconded with a considerable amount of the county's money. Beckham was an enemy of Matthews, and the latter took the chance to go after him even though Beckham had headed for Oklahoma Territory.

Matthews had even enlisted the aid of another Texas Ranger who, after capturing Beckham, took charge of the prisoner and moved him to Matador. This, of course, angered Matthews more, and he went to McDonald demanding that the other Ranger be dismissed. When McDonald refused, Matthews started spreading the word around Childress that he was going to wander over to Quanah and kill Bill McDonald just as a matter of pastime.

Meanwhile the Childress sheriff, who had been suspected of coming to Texas because of a previous murder charge against him in Louisiana, began practicing on his draw and aim.

On that December day, he did in fact come to Quanah accompanied by a group of henchmen and sightseers, but the day wore on, and it looked as if there would be no show-down. And then, just before the train that would have taken Matthews and company to Childress arrived, the two parties met at the depot.

It is unclear whether anybody was helping McDonald or whether he was going it alone. Also accounts of the fight differ sharply. At least two outlaws were assisting Matthews however.

One account tells it like this: The two came together near the depot and McDonald asked if the rumors about Matthews' intentions were true. Matthews, who managed to get Hardeman County Sheriff Dick Coffer between him and McDonald, began to answer, pointing towards McDonald with his left hand.

At the same time, his right hand started for the pistol.

Captain Bill saw the movement, and his own hand dropped into his side overcoat pocket where in winter he carried a part of his armament.

Matthews' gun seemed to hang a little in the scabbard. A second later he had jerked it free and stepping behind Coffer fired at McDonald over the sheriff's right shoulder, but the slight hitch spoiled his aim, perhaps, for the bullet missed, passing through McDonald's overcoat collar.

McDonald, by this time, had skipped to one side in an effort to remove Coffer from his line of sight. He fired twice, hitting Matthews in the chest on the left side. However, according to the story, Matthews had taken the precaution to carry a thick plug of Star Navy and a heavy notebook in his left pocket to serve as a shield. This stopped the two slugs.

About this time, Coffer tired of dancing a jog between the two and dropped to the ground where things were quieter. Matthews fired again and the slug struck McDonald in the left shoulder ranging down through his lung and lodging in the small of his back. However, he was not incapacitated.

Realizing he could not hurt Matthews by shooting on the left side, McDonald shifted his aim and on the third shot dropped his enemy.

Meanwhile some of Matthews' gang opened fire and one of them sent two bullets through McDonald's left arm. After felling Matthews he turned and started to cock his gun but received another ball this time in the right shoulder. The shot paralyzed the fingers in his right hand and he attempted to cock the gun with his teeth, but the would-be assassins fled.

Although sporting four .45 slugs, McDonald eventually recovered and went back to trailing outlaws throughout the state until he died in 1918.

Matthews was put on board the train for Childress, but died there a few days later.

"Just One Riot" not Withstanding by Robert Nieman

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