The noted outlaw and Lincoln County War player seemingly rode off the pages of history in 1882. But recent research provides clues to his true identity and how he spent his later years.
On December 1, 1880, Jessie Evans entered the Texas state prison at Huntsville to serve a sentence of two to 10 years for robbery and 10 years on a reduced murder charge. The cleanshaven convict, who once rode with Billy the Kid in New Mexico Territory but manned the opposite side of the fence during the Lincoln County War, stood just under 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed little more than 150 pounds. He had gray eyes, light hair and a fair complexion. No existing photograph of him has been authenticated. While his criminal record was longer than a day in the saddle, details of his early life, including his date of birth, were sketchy at best. He was known to use aliases, including Jessie Graham and Will Davis, and no one can be certain Jessie Evans was his birth name.
Apparently he didn’t talk much about such things while in prison, not that Huntsville was his home for long. On May 23, 1882, he escaped. Evans sightings and rumors surfaced from time to time, but none was ever substantiated. Lincoln County War researchers and authors have long been baffled by what became of the cowboy desperado, rating his fate as substantial a mystery as whether or not Sheriff Pat Garrett really killed Billy the Kid on July 14, 1881. But now, thanks to revealing photographs, previously unavailable research and a bit of good luck, the Evans mystery just might be solved.
There was a time when the name Jessie (often spelled “Jesse”) Evans was as recognizable as Billy the Kid. Like the Kid, Evans engaged in criminal activity in New Mexico Territory and west Texas before, during and after the Lincoln County War of the late 1870s. Also like the Kid—whose real name may have been Henry McCarty—Evans was sometimes known by other names, and his origins are vague.
In October 1877, the Kid (then known as Henry Antrim) was seen riding with “the Boys,” a gang of desperados led by Evans that had come to New Mexico Territory from Texas in 1872. They came to serve as gunmen for “the House,” the Lincoln business monopoly run by L.G. Murphy and Jimmy Dolan, while the Kid befriended and worked for their rival, British rancher John Henry Tunstall. Tunstall’s assassination on February 18, 1878, ignited the deadly business war. Evans was in the group of men who killed him, while rivals shot two of Evans’ cohorts, William S. “Buck” Morton and Frank Baker, in revenge.
Following the Lincoln County War, Evans rustled cattle and otherwise continued his outlaw ways until captured and imprisoned in Huntsville. His escape from the pen in 1882 freed him to steal and perhaps even kill again. But what if he had decided to clean up his act and stop using the alias Jessie Evans? Could he have spent his remaining years living honestly and rather quietly under his real name? That is the case made here, for the mystery man never again made waves —at least not crime waves.
The Evans mystery has exasperated a number of first- rate researchers, such as Robert Mullin, who offered few clues to Evans’ fate, and Phil Rasch, who long hoped that someone in the Southwest would come forward and explain Jessie’s fate. Rasch was correct in suggesting the answers lay beyond New Mexico. Perhaps the well-known historical writer Eve Ball, who died in 1984, came closest to learning what happened to the onetime desperado.
The maternal grandfather of Rick Parker (an Arkansas conservator and co-author of this article) was born the year Jessie Evans disappeared and was named “Jesse Evans Glenn.” While searching for possible Glenn family ties to the outlaw, the authors came across a group photo, dated 1878 and published in the January 15, 1950, Los Angeles Times. The names of the eight men pictured, supposedly Texas Rangers, are handwritten on the photo. The man second from the left is identified as “Jim Glen.” Rick’s 94-year-old mother, Ruby Faye Parker, recognized him as her grandfather James Randolph Glenn. In 1866 the Glenn family arrived in Palo Pinto County, Texas, which offered good grazing and proximity to the Brazos River for herds belonging to Oliver Loving and other cattlemen. In a 1930 interview, Glenn recalled how rough and remote the area had been and told of a time he had been chased by a Comanche raiding party. Another man in the photo is identified as Emry Pettit (actually, William Emery Pettit), whose family owned the original photograph. Ruby Faye Parker recalled Palo Pinto neighbors with that last name, though spelled differently. No one in the picture is identified as Jessie Evans, but the cherub-faced young man at far right is labeled “Billy the Kid” (see sidebar, P. 43).
A second group photo, reportedly taken in Pecos, Texas, in 1880, makes the Glenn-Evans connection; James R. Glenn sits at a table, while behind and to his right stands a man identified as Jessie Evans. The figure directly behind Glenn is reportedly Billy the Kid. The photograph appeared in both Ed Bartholomew’s Jesse Evans: A Texas Hide-Burner (1955) and Grady McCright and James H. Powell’s Jessie Evans: Lincoln County Badman (1983). The Glenn in this photograph is the same man identified as “Jim Glen” in the Los Angeles Times photo. Further connections lay in those books and other writings.
In Story of the Outlaw (1907), Emerson Hough referred to badman Evans as “a young fellow in his early 20s when he first came to the Pecos country, but good enough at gun work to make his service desirable.” Evans certainly became an outlaw legend. “He was one of the very few men who did not fear Billy the Kid,” Hough wrote. “He always said that the Kid might beat him with the Winchester, but that he feared no man living with the six-shooter.” Evans was so well known by the summer of 1877 that the Kid’s outlaw image was heightened by his association with Jessie, not vice versa. In The Real Billy the Kid (1936), Miguel Antonio Otero (onetime governor of New Mexico Territory) claimed the Evans-Kid relationship was that of tutor and student. The two first met in Silver City, where Evans was using the name Jessie Davis. “They soon parted at Silver City,” wrote Otero, “only to meet again many times on different sides during their brief and bloody careers.”
By 1872 Evans was working as a cowhand in New Mexico Territory. An affidavit taken in 1878 stated that cattle rancher John Chisum had employed Evans to track stolen horses from the nearby Mescalero Apache Reservation. Territorial resident A.M. McCabe wrote his friend Ellen E. Casey in August 1875: “Jim McDaniel & Jesse Evans are working for Chisum. They are looking out for the Mair [sic] & their friends. When the ‘outfit’ is not here, I am alone, but when alone, I always have a gun at or in my hand, for they have made their threats against this place.” Later that summer, Evans, McDaniel and Chisum’s brother Pitzer searched the town of La Boquilla for stolen Longhorns while holding the residents at gunpoint. Nothing was found; the residents had already slaughtered the cattle and stored the meat in cellars and tunnels.
In the wake of that incident, Evans turned increasingly to crime. While working for Chisum, he ran a shadowy operation in cattle repossession. He later drifted to Doña Ana County and associated with John Kinney, a former soldier turned businessman. On New Year’s Eve 1875–76, Evans, Kinney and others scuffled with troopers at a Fort Selden dance and then reportedly shot up the place, killing two soldiers and a civilian. A few weeks later, a local Las Cruces man was found shot dead on the street. Evans was tried for the murder in June 1877 and acquitted. Still, Evans and the Boys made so much trouble in southern New Mexico Territory and El Paso that Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain, editor of the Mesilla Valley Independent, took it upon himself to hound them in the newspaper.
Between 1875 and 1878, Doña Ana County issued 10 arrest warrants (five on murder charges) for Evans, and Lincoln County put out five warrants for his arrest. Only weeks after their involvement in Tunstall’s February 1878 murder, Evans and Tom Hill tried to rob a rancher near Tularosa. Hill was shot to death, while a fleeing Evans was wounded in the wrist and lungs. The latter soon surrendered. He was imprisoned at Fort Stanton while waiting to stand trial in Mesilla on charges related to Tunstall’s death. But Evans posted bail and skipped. He was most likely a secondary player in the July 1878 Five Days’ Battle during the Lincoln County War. The following February, Evans was present when William Campbell and James Dolan shot lawyer Huston Chapman, and he was thereafter arrested at the request of Governor Lew Wallace.
On March 19, 1879, Evans escaped confinement at Fort Stanton with the help of a guard known as “Texas Jack.” He soon took up rustling around Forts Stockton and Davis in Texas. In the spring of 1880, some 80 miles southwest of Fort Davis, Texas Rangers exchanged gunfire with Evans—then identified as “one of the Billy the Kid Gang”—and some of his men. The gang fled, but the Rangers followed, one of them shooting and killing George Davis (aka Graham), said to be one of Evans’ brothers. Evans was captured and confined at Fort Davis, where he tried one unsuccessful breakout and also appealed for help to escape in a letter to the Kid. Evans stood trial in October 1880 and began serving his time in Huntsville that December.
After walking away from a prison work detail in May 1882, Evans vanished, although some claimed to have spotted him in places like El Paso or Arizona Territory. In Story of the Outlaw, Hough wrote: “Evans, or Davis, is said to have been a Texarkana man and to have returned to his home soon after this, only to find his wife living with another man and supposing her first husband dead. He did not tell the new husband of his presence, but took away with him his boy, whom he found now well grown. It was stated that he went to Arizona, and nothing more is known of him.” In the 1920s, historian Mullin met a man in Texas who called himself “Joe Evans.” He fit the age and description of Jessie, but definitive proof was lacking. In August 1951, the El Paso Times profiled a man who claimed Evans was “leading a sedate existence” at an undisclosed location in Texas.
Ed Bartholomew, Evans’ first biographer, believed Jessie had strong ties to the Horrell family of Lampasas, Texas. The Horrells (of Horrell-Higgins feud fame) did follow the same cattle trails. Eve Ball told fellow historian Maurice Fulton about “an old fellow claiming to be the brother of Jessie Evans and who says that Jesse [sic] lived in retirement on a ranch in Texas until his death.” Fulton added: “This informant lives at Loving, below Carlsbad, and has been dribbling his story out to her [Ball] because he does not want his wife to know it. He had another surname when he and Jesse were together, but changed it to ‘Sam.’”
In December 1961, Ball wrote another historian (presumably Mullin) that she had known an elderly man, since dead, who claimed to be Jessie Evans’ nephew. “He told me that this uncle died only about seven years ago on a big ranch in Texas,” wrote Ball. “He had not been out of the house in daytime for 40 years. And even the closest neighbors did not know of his existence. This man would not permit me to use this for publication because of his family, who did not know of his relationship to Jesse Evans. I found that other material he gave me was very close to the accepted historical versions, but this may not have been true. He did know inside details that made it sound convincing. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, however; nor can I give you his name. His wife, daughter and son are living, and I think his wife suspected, but did not know, of their relationship.”
In a 1978 letter, Robert Mullin wrote, “Neither Colonel Fulton [who died in 1955] nor I ever were convinced of any of the various reports of the death of Jesse Evans.” Evans had lived near Carrizozo, N.M., using another name, one report said. According to Mullin, the man claiming to be Jessie’s nephew told Ball that after his prison escape, Evans lived alone just south of Carrizozo. Mullin and Ball were closer to solving the mystery than they realized.
Over the years, historians have debated Jessie Evans’ true surname. The alias “Graham” was likely a reference to the town of Graham, where four prominent ranchers with ties to Palo Pinto County established the Texas Cattle Raisers Association and dominated the cattle trails for decades. One of their acquaintances was a cattleman named Jesse Evans, and it was probably from him the outlaw known as “Jessie Evans” borrowed that alias.
The photos mentioned earlier establish a connection between rancher James R. Glenn and the outlaw known as Evans. Glenn, in turn, was a neighbor of the Daves, a well-respected family in Santo, Texas. The authors of this article focused on the Evans-Glenn-Daves relationship, that part of Texas and other clues to determine that Jessie Evans’ actual surname was likely Daves (Evans had used the alias “Davis”), and that he was one of two known members of that family: Harrison Woodbury Daves, a pillar of the Palo Pinto County community, or Sam Lockhart Daves, a relative of Harrison’s who resided in Fort Worth for at least four decades.
H.W. Daves was born on January 14, 1859 (Evans claimed 1853 as his birth year). His father, James Loving Daves, and three of his uncles served as Texas Rangers and were involved in the cattle trade. H.W. settled in Santo, Palo Pinto County, and on March 29, 1879, he married Abbie Louise Bearden. He is remembered as a churchgoing family man who donated land for a community cemetery and rarely traveled. He died in Santo on January 12, 1929. Entries in neighbor Jim Glenn’s diary draw a connection between the two families. In April 1903, Glenn stayed with a “Jim Daves” in Brazos, Texas, and, as mentioned, later named his son Jesse Evans Glenn. The Daves family may also have been related to Texas Jack, the man who helped Evans escape jail in 1879. “Texas Jack” Vermillion was a notable Western character, and H.W. Daves’ grandmother was Rebecca Vermillion. A figure identified as “Wild Jack” in the 1878 photo of Rangers might have been Texas Jack.
The brother or nephew of Evans who talked to Ball may have been Ben Loving Daves, who was born in 1868. Daves married Rosa Lee Bell and lived in Bandera County, Texas, before moving to Lincoln County. He worked the mines around the communities of Nogal and White Oaks, just outside Carrizozo. In 1914 Daves moved to Berino, in New Mexico’s Doña Ana County. After his wife died in 1926, Ben moved to Tempe, Ariz., where he died in 1947.
The second “Jessie Evans” candidate, Sam Lockhart Daves, resided with wife Elizabeth, six children and extended family in Fort Worth, Texas, at the turn of the 20th century. According to the 1900 census, he was born in Missouri in May 1853 (Evans was reportedly born in Missouri that same year), although his death certificate records his birth date as May 15, 1848. From 1915 to 1924, Sam Daves resided at 3817 Jessie Street in Fort Worth. He died of a ruptured ulcer in Fort Worth on June 17, 1945.
The search for clues to Jessie Evans’ fate has raised more questions than answers and is ongoing. Still, a growing body of evidence suggests he was a Daves family member—most likely Harrison Woodbury Daves, but perhaps relative Sam Lockhart Daves. For now, with Evans rumors and sightings a thing of the distant past, that’s all historians have to go on.
Virginia author David S. Turk is the U.S. Marshals Service historian. Arkansas author Rick Parker is the grandson of Jesse Evans Glenn. The authors thank Vicki Youngblood-Reynolds, Deedie McIntire, Anne King, Steve Sederwall, Grady McCright and Van Parker for their contributions to the research project.
Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.