Death on the Lonely Llano Estacado: The Assassination of J.W. Jarrott, a Forgotten Hero, by Bill Neal, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2017, $24.95
“Lonely” is a fitting description of the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, of northwestern Texas and parts of eastern New Mexico. Homesteaders didn’t arrive until the early 1900s in this land of dry gullies, shallow canyons and steep caprock. Cattle ranchers had arrived first, making use of the thousands of acres of unfenced prairieland. They resented the arrival of “nesters” like J.W. Jarrott, who led 25 homesteader families to the south plains of the Llano Estacado in the winter of 1901. In August 1902 hired killer Jim Miller ambushed and killed Jarrott, although no one ever faced charges for the crime. The bigger question remains who hired the man who became known as “Deacon Jim” or “Killin’ Jim” Miller?
Author Bill Neal, who practiced criminal law in West Texas for 40 years, wanted to know, and so will the readers, as the author provides the evidence to solve the case. The West (the real one and the Hollywood one) has seen many battles pitting settlers and small ranchers vs. large cattle ranchers, and the author covers one of those dramatic, if often overlooked, clashes and its aftermath. “The rancher who paid Jim Miller to assassinate Jarrott succeeded in his goal of silencing the leader of the nesters—permanently,” Neal writes. “But he failed completely in achieving his second and larger goal: teaching all those squatters a ‘hard lesson’ and thus scaring them off the cattlemen’s domain.” Neal has achieved his goal, though, in closing this well-crafted book on a cold case from the Llano Estacado.