A Texas Ranger could ride like a Mexican, track like an Indian,
shoot like a Tennessean, and fight like a devil.
McMullen County, formed in 1858 from Béxar, Atascosa, and Live Oak counties, sets around 74-miles south of San Antonio. The country wasn’t organized until 1877. The county seat is Tilden, a small town of around 450 people, named in honor of Whispering Sammy Tilden, the fellow who lost the presidential race to Rutherford B. Hayes.
During the War of Yankee Aggression, the area was a small camp set up to protect settlers from Apaches and Mexican bandits. They called it Camp Rio Frio — on account of the fact that the camp was set up along the Frio River. After the war, the folks living there decided to change its name to Dog Town.
Dog Town was a lawless place in the middle of nowhere — a likely consequence of allowing local cow hands wear their hog legs into lean-to cantinas. Drinking and gambling leads to shooting and hanging — or so some say. Ralph Franklin started his range in 1868. By 1871, Dog Town had its own post office. At some point, local folks began calling it Colfax. But Sammy Tilden was a popular fellow and his name finally won out.
It was just after the Shelby County War when Joe Walker moved down to Atascosa County, forced to relocate his family on account of the fact that Joe had killed two men during the dustup. The Walkers were among the first to settle in the county. Joe’s daughter, Mary Jane, ended up marrying a cow hand by the name of Aaron Van Oden. Aaron was of Swedish descent.
After their marriage, Mary Jane and Aaron moved over to Dog Town. In mid-March 1863, Mary Jane gave birth to a son. The couple named him Alonzo but took to calling him Lon. Lon was only four months old when his father, riding with George Hindes, came across an hombre by the name of Julian Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a known horse thief from Starr County. For whatever reason, Oden and Hines got into a gunfight with Gonzalez. Oden shot and killed Gonzalez, but not before Gonzalez put a few bullets in Oden, and Oden was also killed. Hindes buried the two men where they fell and then had the task of telling Mary Jane, who was just 19-years old, that she was a widow.
Such was their love for one another that Mary Jane was broken hearted when Aaron was taken away from her. She lived another year — some say she simply wasted away. Her father Joe claimed that she died from grief. And Lon, fourteen months old, became an orphan.
By agreement, his grandparents raised Lon in a joint arrangement. Grandmother Oden taught the boy about Sweden and instructed him in the classics, poetry, and the arts. The Walkers were salt of the earth Texans. From them, Lon learned how to raise cattle, break a horse, and shoot a pistol and a rifle. Joe Walker had a total of nineteen children, but he had a special place in his heart for his grandson. When Lon was around two years old, Joe Walker registered 150 head of cattle and the brand ODN in Lon’s name.
Lon’s uncles Tom and James Walker were still teenagers when their sister died, but they chipped in and helped to raise Lon. The Walkers were cowboys, and they imparted these skills to Lon for most of his formative years. Part of this experience was defending themselves from Comanche raids — and growing up with the reality that Texas was a wild and bloody land.
In 1868, Lon’s cousin William “Buck” Taylor was gunned down at the start of what became the Sutton-Taylor Feud. The Walker family was tied to the Taylor’s by virtue of James Walker’s marriage to Sophronia, the widow of Martin Taylor.
Oden’s Uncle Tom Walker was also known as a shootist. Tom Walker had a few brushes with the law on account of having shot a few men. Apparently, Tom Walker didn’t take any sass from folks. In any case, Tom drifted west to New Mexico and joined up with the Seven Rivers Warriors Gang during the Lincoln County War. Tom met his end in a gunfight on 23 November 1879.
Lon married the first time in 1889. He was 26 years old, and the marriage was in trouble almost from the start. In 1891, Lon Oden joined the Texas Rangers. His first assignment was in the area surrounding San Antonio, but he was later assigned to Company D where he served under Captain John R. Hughes. Lon was fortunate because there was no one better to teach him about becoming a good ranger.
On the night of 14 August 1891, a 35-year old county deputy sheriff named Toribio Pastrano was looking for an elusive outlaw named Antonio Carrasco. Pastrano was in possession of evidence linking Carrasco to the murder of Texas Ranger Charles Fusselman in El Paso County in 1890. Pastrano was determined to bring Carrasco to justice. Deputy Pastrano may have bitten off more than he could chew.
Antonio Carrasco was a bad-ass. What we know about Antonio is partly fact and partly fiction, with no clear lines separating one from another. Antonio was one of three brothers who became legends in their own time as West Texas outlaws. The Carrasco family was a large one. When Mexican Rurales killed his father, he didn’t seek justice — he wanted revenge. Eventually this would take the Carrasco brothers into the Mexican revolution against Porfirio Diaz. Before then, Antonio was known among the local populations as the Prince of Devils. His kingdom was the area of the Rio Grande in lower Presidio County. He stole horses, murdered ranchers, and never gave a second thought to gunning down Texas Ranger Charles Fusselman.
Deputy Pastrano entered a Mexican fandango looking for Carrasco, spotted him standing at the end of the bar, and made his way through the crowd to confront his quarry. It would have been difficult not to spot Carrasco. He was dressed from head to foot in snow white duck; he wore a bright red sash around his waist, and a prominently displayed holstered revolver.
If anyone could spot a lawman from a distance, it was Antonio Carrasco. He eyed Pastrano carefully as the lawman approached. Before Pastrano reached the place where Carrasco stood, at the end of the bar, Antonio called out, “My friend, you are an officer, and you wish to arrest me. Very well.” The greeting gave Pastrano pause and Antonio an edge. Before Pastrano could even respond, Antonio Carrasco whipped out his revolver and shot Pastrano in the head. Carrasco backed out of the dance hall daring any man to step forward to arrest him, leapt upon his horse, and plunged into the river and disappeared into the night.
Antonio’s brothers were Matilde and Florencio. Due to their outlawry and the murder of a Texas Ranger, the three men captured the attention of Captain John R. Hughes. On the night of 12 January 1892, Hughes and Lon Oden set out to arrest Matilde Carrasco and two companions for stealing ore from the mines at Shafter, Texas. With information provided by Ernest “Diamond Dick” St. Leon, Hughes and Oden prepared an ambush along a trail commonly used by Matilde and his compañeros. When Matilde and his friends rode down the trail, Hughes stepped out and told them to surrender to law officers. Matilde, in a silly moment, had another idea and decided to resist arrest. Hughes and Oden opened up with their shotguns, killing Matilde’s companions, and Diamond Dick shot Matilde through the head with his pistol.
Six months later, Captain Hughes and Oden were tracking another outlaw when they happened to stumble upon Florentino Carrasco, who was also in the company of two thugs. In the shootout that followed, Florentino joined Matilde in the netherworld. Captain Hughes was nothing if not prolific in chasing down bad guys — and dispensing justice. Meanwhile, Antonio managed to avoid the Rangers. He was no doubt aware of the fate of his brothers.
But to emphasize the rightness of Captain Hughes’ campaign to rid Texas of despicable men, a man by the name of Antonio Carrasco was arrested in 1895, charged with stealing horses. He went to court and received a five year prison sentence. We do not know if this was THE Antonio Carrasco, or another by the same name. What we do know is that this particular Antonio was never charged with the murder of Deputy Sheriff Toribio Pastrano and we know that in 1898, while serving as a prison “trustee,” this Antonio escaped from jail and disappeared into the desert. Had Captain Hughes arrested this man, he would not have escaped because In the history of mankind, no one has ever escaped from the fires of hell.
The Mexican revolution erupted in 1910. It was an opportunity for Antonio Carrasco to finally become “somebody.” Carrasco raised his own company of “revolutionaries,” which in Mexico is coded language for cut throats. Carrasco’s revolutionaries pursued their normal course by waging a private war for the hearts and minds of heartless/mindless people. Colonel Jose de la Cruz Sanchez (supporting Francisco Madero) initially refused to acknowledge Carrasco, but eventually allowed Carrasco and his 100 gunslingers to join his force about a year later. To the extent that Sanchez controlled Carrasco is unknown but in 1911, Carrasco raided a small border village called San Antonio, near Candelaria, Texas. The raid was likely a search for forage and arms.
Carrasco rejoined Sanchez at the battle of Ojinaga, conducted in full view of the small Texas town of Presidio. Units of the US Cavalry had a front row seat in observing this battle. It was an American social event, as evidenced by the fact that one Texas woman served a “battle tea” on the roof of her home. In 1911, Carrasco was getting full page press in the American media because he had made the strategic decision to stop fighting for free; fighting, he reasoned, should at least be a profitable enterprise. Carrasco also believed that any orders he might have received from Sanchez were mere suggestions that he was free to ignore, as he chose. American media suggested that Carrasco was consorting with the federales while still a member of Sanchez’ army. Such allegations were factually supported — or at least, they were good enough to support a Mexican revolutionary tribunal. One positive aspect of Mexican courts-martial is that they don’t waste a lot of time on courtroom procedure and post-trial appeals. Carrasco faced the charges one day and was executed the next. An American named Frank “The Devil” McCombs supervised Carrasco’s execution.
Following the terminal arrest of Florentino Carrasco, Lon Oden was dispatched to El Paso, Texas where he worked with Texas Ranger Baz L. Outlaw. Also called “Bass,” Outlaw came from a good family, was well-educated, and was largely regarded as a refined gentleman. Outlaw’s problem was, unfortunately, the excessive consumption of alcohol on a somewhat regular basis.
In 1893, after Texas Ranger Captain Frank Jones was killed while serving a warrant for the arrest of Jesus Maria Olguin and his son Severio at Tres Jacales, Captain Hughes took over command of the ranger company. At the time of his death, Jones was inside Mexico and there was no way the Mexicans were going to hold a citizen of Mexico responsible for the killing of a Gringo. Working under cover, Diamond Dick was able to compile a list of individuals responsible for Jones’ death. Then, accompanied by a company of rangers, including Lon Oden, John Hughes tracked down and killed all eighteen men on St. Leon’s list — either by shooting them, or hanging them.
By 1893, Lon Oden had settled in Ysleta, Texas — a mostly Hispanic/Indian community outside of El Paso. During his time in El Paso, Oden participated in several raids which, in time, decreased the amount of criminal/gang activities in the region. The Rangers were needed in El Paso, but not every Ranger was a credit to his company.
In April 1894, while working with Oden in El Paso, Baz was under the influence when he fired a shot from his pistol into Tillie Howard’s brothel. Constable John Selman and Texas Ranger Joe McKidrict challenged Outlaw, who then pointed his gun in their general direction and pulled the trigger, the shot hitting McKidrict in the head, killing him. Selman returned fire, hitting Outlaw in the chest. Baz fired two more shots at Selman, wounding him. Outlaw died from his wound a few hours later. Oden, who had grown close to Outlaw, was depressed over Outlaw’s death, even though he realized that there was no one more responsible for what happened than Outlaw, himself.
In 1896, two years to the day that Baz Outlaw was killed, lawman (and bad ass) George Scarborough, who had been a close friend of Baz Outlaw, called John Selman into the alley behind the Wigwam Saloon. Words were exchanged, a few punches were thrown, and finally both men went for their guns. John Selman was a few seconds too slow.
In his years with the Texas Rangers, Lon Oden gained the reputation of an honest lawman, and a dangerous one. When he went after outlaws, they were either soon arrested, shot to death, or hanged. Anyone on the wrong side of the street gave Lon Oden a wide birth. But by 1897, Lon Oden had fallen in love with Annie Laura Hay, a widow. The couple married, he resigned from the rangers, and Oden became a rancher and a businessman in Marfa, Texas.
Lon Oden passed away on 11 August 1910 from a lung ailment. He was 47 years old, which in 1910, was about the average life expectancy in the United States.
- Dolan, S. K. “Another Bad Man Goes to Hell.” True West Magazine, April 2021.
- Parsons, C. Captain John R. Hughes: Lone Star Ranger. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2011.
 The Sutton–Taylor feud arose from a growing animosity between the Texas Taylor family —headed by Pitkin Taylor, the brother of Creed Taylor (a Texas Ranger) — and local lawman, William E. Sutton — a former Confederate soldier, who had moved with his family to DeWitt County intending to raise cattle. Sutton had been elected deputy sheriff in Clinton, Texas prior to the feud’s inception in 1862. The feud lasted almost a decade and has been called the longest and bloodiest in Texas history.
 Dance hall.
 It is difficult to affix the origin for wearing red sashes around the waist, but it became popular among the so-called Cochise County (AZ) Cowboys. Some claim the non-military tradition may have come from Veracruz, Mexico, where early Spanish settlers wore white guayabera trousers and shirts with a red sash around their waist, accompanied by straw hats. I doubt if anyone made fun of Johnny Ringo for wearing a red sash in 1880.
 Ernest St. Leon was one of the finest undercover officers in Texas law enforcement. He also distinguished himself as a member of the U. S. Army Cavalry during the Texas Indian Wars and served for over ten years in Company D of the Texas Rangers.
 Frank McCombs was a mercenary who, in addition to joining the Mexican Revolution, participated in the Greek-Turkish War, the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Boer Wars, and in the Philippine-American War. He is also believed to have been a bandit in Nicaragua. The amazing part of the McCombs story is that he spoke not a word of Spanish.
 Looking back through time at the Texas Rangers, there is a tendency among metrosexual pundits to classify the Rangers as murderers and cut throats. This may be an accurate description of these men, but only if we judge them by modern standards. One-hundred-thirty years ago, Texas was a dangerous land — it was a state so hostile that the only protection available to the innocent from murdering desperadoes were the lawmen equally capable of extreme violence.