Chris Ledoux - The Borderline
The Reluctant Lawman
"No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow
that's in the right and keeps on a-comin'."
May Kincaid rang the dinner bell hanging on the corner of the porch announcing lunch was ready just as Matt and his two sons, Luke and John, finished unloading the last of the hay from the wagon. It had been a long time since breakfast, and all three men hustled to get washed up in anticipation of another of May’s good meals. As they stepped onto the porch, Matt noticed a small cloud of dust coming down their Spring Creek Ranch road and wondered who was coming to visit.
“May, comp’ny comin’. Might have ta set an extra plate ’r two. You boys go on an’ get set at the table. I’ll wait ta see who it is,” Matt pronounced as he walked to the end of the porch.
A few minutes later, a buggy pulled by a big copper sorrel with flaxen mane and tail came into view. Matt knew from the horse that the man in the buggy was none other than their nearest neighbor Robert Mason, local lawyer and rancher, and the driving force behind trying to create Irion County.
“Bob, you’re just in time for lunch. C’mon in an’ cool off. What brings you by?”
“Business, Matt. I’m glad to catch all of you at one time, as what I have to talk to you about concerns all four of you.”
“Sounds serious, Bob. But let’s eat first.”
“Yes, Matt, it is serious. I didn’t come by to eat, but as long as May has plenty of that good sweet tea of hers, I can hold off talking until you fellows finish lunch.”
“Now, Bob, you an’ I both know that if you’re here, May is gonna make you eat somethin’. Now, let’s get inside ’fore she comes huntin’ us,” Matt said as he motioned for Bob to join them inside.
“Bob, have a seat. How’s Sally?” May Kincaid asked Mason as he and her husband entered the dining room.”
“Tired of traveling, she says, May. Wants to stay home instead of going back to Austin with me this next trip.”
“Another trip to Austin?”
“Yes, one last time, I hope. All indications are that the legislature is finally going to act on establishing Irion County out of Tom Green County, which is part of why I’m here. But, please, enjoy your lunch, and then we can get down to the reason for my visit.”
“Now, Robert Mason, you don’t dare come to my house at mealtime and not eat something. Sit down, pour yourself a glass of tea, and dig in. It isn’t anything fancy, but it will certainly stick to your ribs,” May declared, nudging Luke to pass the mashed potatoes in Bob’s direction as their guest helped himself to a glass of her famous sweet tea.
For the next thirty minutes, the only sounds emanating from the dining room were the sounds of hungry men eating, with the occasional, “Please pass…” interspersed between the clanking and scraping sounds. Finally, Matt pushed back from the table after pouring another glass of tea for himself and asked, “All right, Bob, what’s all this about?”
“Well, as I said, it appears the legislature is finally going to act on creating Irion County, and making Sherwood the county seat. As soon as it is declared, we need to have our local government all lined out and ready to start doing business.”
“An’ you want our support ta make you the county judge, right?”
“Well, yes, but that’s only part of it, Matt. We have a population of just over eight hundred souls, counting the Mexicans, Indians, Blacks and Orientals, and all the women and children. Of that population, over two hundred live in Sherwood, a goodly number are ranch hands, and there are only some hundred or so who will be able to vote in any elections. We’ll need to appoint the county commissioners, county clerk, treasurer and, of course, a sheriff. That’s where you come in, Matt, if you’re willing.”
“I don’t get ya, Bob. What do ya mean, ‘that’s where you come in’?”
“Well, if you, May and the boys agree, I’d like to see to your appointment as the county sheriff. Besides me, as an attorney, you’re the only other person in the area with any experience in the law, making you the odds-on choice to hold the position—at least until we can hold elections.”
“Robert Mason, I swear you’ve gone daft. There just isn’t any way you’re gonna talk me inta bein’ sheriff, not even for a short time,” Matt stated firmly.
“Matt, you served as a Texas Ranger, and everyone remembers how you took charge a couple of decades ago, riding with Colt Raines when we needed to clean out that nest of rustlers operating north of here. That’s the kind of leadership we need from a lawman, the very first lawman of Irion County. I’m afraid, as long as May, Luke and John don’t object, I’ll have to insist that you accept the position.”
“Bob, that was twenty-five years ago when I rode with the Rangers, before I met May an’ settled down here ta establish this ranch. An’ the reason I went after them rustlers so hard was they stole my prize bull, the one I had just bought in San Antone an’ turned out with my herd.”
“Be that as it may, Matt, I was there when you strode into their camp with Colt, guns drawn and firing, while the rest of us cowered behind the brush until you two had them disarmed, wounded, or dead. That kind of courage can’t be taught, or bought. It comes naturally, and you are the only man short of the Creed boys up at Colorado City that I know who has it. May, boys, what do you think of the idea of Matt becoming our sheriff?”
“I don’t care too much for the idea, Bob, but it’s entirely up to Matt. If he says yes, I’ll give him all the support I can, just as I’ve always done,” May answered quietly.
“Shoot, Paw, me an’ John can handle anything that comes up here at home, an’ Mr. Mason is right. You’d make a good sheriff, if the way you raised us ta be is any indication. Right, John?”
“Right as rain, Luke. Paw, you have always taught us never ta back down from a challenge, an’ ta always do the right thing, even when there ain’t nobody watchin’. I don’t think enforcin’ the law around here would be much of a challenge, at least not for you, seein’ as how it’s so quiet an’ peaceful around this area.”
“Sounds to me like your boys are in favor of my drafting you, Matt, and May won’t object if you decide to accept. Matt, old friend, please, we need you. You and I both know there isn’t another man living anywhere near us that can handle the job. And there isn’t a soul around here that doesn’t respect you or what you think or say. If you tell someone something, they know they can count on it, and when it comes to enforcing the laws of Texas, that will go a long way. Now, what do you say? Will you accept the temporary position as sheriff of Irion County, once the legislature acts?”
Matt sat silently contemplating the things Mason had just said, glanced at his boys, and then finally gave his wife of twenty-two years a questioning look. May smiled and nodded, giving Matt her permission to accept Mason’s suggestion. But he still wasn’t sold on the idea.
“Bob, how long ’fore an election can be held? I don’t want this ta be a long-term thing.”
“Once we are designated, there will be a period of organization, probably taking three or four months, as long as we have our constitutionally required governmental positions established, and then the time to collect the taxes needed to fund that government as well as pay for things like ballots. I’d say no more than a year from the day they declare us a county.”
“Damn, that’s longer than I figured, Bob. Now, if I say yes, am I gonna be allowed time ta take care o’ my personal business? After all, I still have a ranch ta run, even though the boys can take care o’ near ever’thing that comes up, an’ May can make any decisions that need ta be handled if I ain’t handy. Tell ya what, Bob, I’ll give ya six months, no longer.”
“Matt, I appreciate it, and I’ll figure out a way to make six months work—unless I can talk you into sticking around longer, maybe even getting on the ballot and becoming our officially elected sheriff.”
“Now, there ya go again, Bob Mason, tryin’ ta get more out of a deal than what’s been agreed to. I shoulda known better than to agree ta do it. But, I already said I would, an’ I have never gone back on my word in my near forty-five years. At least that I know of, anyway.”
And so it was in the early fall of 1888 Matt Kincaid reluctantly agreed to serve a short term as the first sheriff of Irion County, Texas. The following year, the Texas legislature formed Irion County from Tom Green County, and that same year the county was organized with the town of Sherwood as the county seat. Matthew Orion Kincaid was sworn in as sheriff that spring, less than a week after the county was formed, and two days before the county’s first suspected homicide.
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