The Higgins-Horrell Feud did not end his trouble in Texas.
Rancher Pink Higgins was a practical man. If someone did him a hurt, he would hurt them back, often with a Winchester rifle—his weapon of choice even for close-up action. In 1874, 23-year-old Pink heard talk around Lampasas County, Texas, about a “miracle” birth in one of his pastures. Being a practical man, Pink didn’t put any stock in it. He was more concerned about keeping the lawless Horrell brothers and their men off his place. (The year before, the Horrells had gone on a killing spree, killing more than 10 men, including five law officers.) As the story goes, Pink was patrolling his property when he spotted a man butchering a recently shot steer. It was a Higgins steer, and the cowboy was reportedly a Horrell man named Zeke Terrell. Pink didn’t need to give the situation much thought; there was only one practical course of action.
Pink quietly dismounted and lined up a shot with his Winchester. Terrell was some 90 yards away, but that was close enough. Higgins fired, and the rustler dropped like a sack of flour. Even after this instant “justice,” Higgins remained a mite angry, so he disemboweled the dead cow and stuffed the carcass with Terrell’s body. Feeling better, Pink rode to the sheriff’s office and let any interested party know where they could “find a miracle taking place—a cow giving birth to a man.”
That oft-repeated tale may be apocryphal (research has not verified anyone named Zeke Terrell), but it certainly captures the spirit of John Calhoun Pinckney “Pink” Higgins. Although he grew ornery and tough in the rugged lands of central Texas, Higgins hailed from Georgia. Born in Macon on March 28, 1851, Pink and his family went west in 1854. His father, John Holcomb Higgins, joined a wagon train of cotton farmers seeking new opportunities in Texas. Nearly 40 prairie schooners, traveling less than 20 miles a day, covered more than 1,000 miles to reach the Austin area. At 12 cents an acre, land was cheap but too rocky for farming cotton. John Higgins settled on ranching as his best bet at earning a decent living, and in 1857 he bought land and cattle up north in recently organized Lampasas County.
The Higginses were strict Southern Baptists, and Pink learned to read using the family Bible. He spent most of his time helping his father and quickly learned to break horses, herd cattle and handle a gun. During the Civil War, his father joined the Texas State Troops, a regiment of frontier soldiers protecting the Lampasas area. Although too young to join that outfit, Pink volunteered for many informal pursuit parties that went after raiding Comanches and Kiowas as well as stock rustlers. When still a teenager, he was part of a posse that caught up with a horse thief and applied some of that instant frontier justice. Pink even placed the rope around the outlaw’s neck, although the man, admitting that he was hell-bound, kicked the horse out from under himself.
In 1868 Pink Higgins took part in a cattle drive to Wyoming organized by a longtime Lampasas County rancher. After that, Higgins began driving his own steers up the Western Trail to the railroad heads in Kansas. He had become a crack shot, prepared to use a gun whenever anyone threatened him, his family or his holdings. After the Horrell brothers’ deadly 1873 shooting spree, Pink regarded them as direct threats. One story relates an 1875 encounter at a water hole used by both Higgins and Horrell cattle. There Pink encountered Ike Lantier, a Horrell employee who had ridden with Confederate guerrilla William Quantrill. Their meeting was brief and reportedly ended with Higgins plugging his enemy in the belly with his Winchester. Again though, details are scarce, and the story may be just that.
The Higgins-Horrell feud, though, was all too real, comprising several deadly encounters that in truth did happen, as detailed in Bill O’Neal’s well-researched 1999 book The Bloody Legacy of Pink Higgins. In late January 1877, for instance, 25-year-old Pink Higgins went to Lampasas and located Merritt Horrell in the Matador Saloon. As this Horrell brother had been caught rustling Higgins cattle, Pink thought the man merited little consideration. Walking up to Horrell, Pink reportedly said, “This is to settle some cow business,” then pumped four Winchester slugs into his enemy. That March, Higgins and friends ambushed Mart and Tom Horrell on the road to Lampasas but only succeeded in wounding the brothers. In June, Horrell men laid an ambush for Higgins and associates on the Lampasas square. Frank Mitchell, Pink’s brother-in-law, and Horrell rider Jim Buck Miller died, while Higgins cowboy Bill Wren was wounded in the fray, but Pink lived to fight another day or two. That July a band of Texas Rangers negotiated a treaty between the warring factions, ending the feud, though the Horrells remained in trouble with the law. In 1882 Sam Horrell, the sole survivor of the five brothers, moved to California. That same year, cattleman Higgins divorced first wife Betty after seven years of marriage. Needing a mother for their three children, Pink married 15-year-old Lena Rivers Sweet the following June.
By 1900 Pink Higgins had moved Lena and the children to the Texas Panhandle, where he could raise cattle on open range. He set up a homestead on Catfish Creek (Kent County) amid the 570,000- acre Spur Ranch, set up by British investors. “The Spurs” was plagued by rustlers, so manager Fred Horsbrugh hired two range detectives—Pink Higgins and Billy Standifer, also from Lampasas County and also gun savvy. But Standifer had sympathized with the Horrells during the 1870s feud. Pink had also once pistol whipped a friend of Standifer’s, and attorney Cullen Higgins (Pink’s oldest son) had represented Standifer’s wife in divorce proceedings.
Things turned nasty between Pink and Billy. One of Pink’s houses went up in flames, and Standifer commented while drunk that he was out to get Pink. Given the mutual hostility, Horsbrugh fired both range detectives in late summer 1902. But that didn’t keep Pink and Billy from baiting one another. Finally, the adversaries met in a mounted duel not far from Pink’s ranch house on October 1, 1902. Higgins intended to use his horse, Sandy, as cover, assuming Standifer would do the same with his mount. “I made up my mind to keep my eye on his left foot,” Pink later said, “and the minute that foot left the stirrup, I would get off and go for my gun.” But once off his horse, Higgins had trouble clearing his Winchester from its sheath. Standifer got off the first shot, which hit Sandy in the flank, causing her to bolt and leaving Higgins exposed. “Standifer was shooting, but he was jumping around like a Comanche, and his shots were going wild,” Pink recalled. “He was sideways to me, and so then I knew I had to shoot mighty accurate to hit him. I knew he couldn’t do any good with his gun till he stopped jumping. So I dropped on my knee, trying to get a bead on him, and when he slowed down, I let him have it. I knew I had got him when the dust flew out of his sleeve above the elbow and he started to buckle. He dropped his gun into the crook of his other arm and tried to trot off. I called to him, saying if he had had enough, I wouldn’t shoot again and would come to him, but he fell face forward, his feet flopped up, and he didn’t speak.”
A grand jury ruled that Higgins had acted in self-defense, and incoming Kent County Sheriff B.F. Roy made Higgins a deputy sheriff. When asked if Standifer’s grave lay where Standifer fell, Pink replied: “Damn him, no! Do you think I’d let him stay on my place?”
Higgins died of a heart attack at his Kent County ranch on December 18, 1913. One obituary read, “He was a man true to his friends, true to his ideals and at all times a man among men.” Sometimes that meant killing men (perhaps 14 to 18), but Pink was looking out for his best interests, and dishing out quick justice seemed the best way to do that.
Author Clara Watkins thanks Higgins biographer Bill O’Neal for his assistance.
Originally published in the February 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.