John Higgins (gunman)

John Higgins (gunman)

John Higgins, usually known as "Pink" Higgins (1848 - December 18, 1914) was a little known gunman and cowboy of the Old West, despite his having killed more men in his lifetime than more notable and well known gunfighters.

Early life

Born John Pinckney Calhoun Higgins, in Atlanta, Georgia, he acquired the nickname "Pink" at an early age, due to his first middle name. His mother and father had immigrated from Ireland, first settling in Georgia, then settling in Texas around 1851, specifically Lampasas County, Texas. While a teenager, Higgins began taking part in cattle drives north into Kansas, working on his fathers ranch. Too young to serve during the American Civil War, Higgins remained in Lampasas County for most of his youth, working as a cowboy. During that time he took part in numerous skirmishes with hostile Indians, and took part in the hanging of several cattle rustlers, and was an active member of what was known as the "Law and Oder League", organized to battle horse and cattle thieves, and other outlaw activities.


His reputation as a gunman started during the mid-1870s, when the Horrell Brothers, Mart, Tom, Merritt, Ben and Sam, went on a killing spree in Lincoln County, New Mexico after killing five lawmen in Lampasas, Texas. Ben Horrell was killed by lawmen in New Mexico Territory, with the other four brothers returning to Texas. In May of 1876, Higgins swore out a warrant for the four Horrell brothers, accusing them of rustling his cattle. However, due mostly to a local jury hearing the case, the brothers were acquitted. This started what would later be referred to as the Horrell-Higgins Feud. Despite the Feuds name, John Higgins was the only Higgins involved.

On January 22, 1877, while in the "Wiley and Toland's Gem Saloon", Merritt Horrell began to goad Higgins, who already was angry due to the acquittal of the brothers. This resulted in the two men engaging in a gunfight, in which Merritt Horrell was killed. The three remaining brothers spread word around town that they intended to retaliate against Higgins, as well as against his brother in law Bob Mitchell and friend Bill Wren. On March 26, 1877, Tom and Mart Horrell were ambushed outside of Lampasas, both being wounded but surviving. Although Higgins was implicated, it was never proven. In May, 1877, being sought in the killing of Merritt Horrell, Higgins and Bob Mitchell surrendered to Texas Ranger John Stark, best known for his capture of gunman Billy Thompson the year before. Both posted bond, and were released. Eventually that shooting was ruled self defense.

On June 7, 1877, John Higgins, brother in law Bob Mitchell, Bob's brother Frank, Bill Wren, and another brother in law, Ben Terry, rode into Lampasas. The Horrell brothers and several friends were already in town that day, gathered at the square. It is unknown who fired first, but it is believed that someone within the Horrell faction opened fire on the Higgins faction. When it was over, Bill Wren had been wounded, Frank Mitchell had been killed, and Horrell faction members Buck Waltrup and Carson Graham were killed.

Texas Rangers descended on the town only days later. All three Horrell brothers were arrested, and Texas Ranger Major John B. Jones acted as a mediator between the two sides to calm matters. Less than one year later, Mart and Tom Horrell were arrested in Meridian, Texas for armed robbery and murder. While confined to the local jail, vigilantes broke in and shot them both, killing them. Although never proven, it was speculated that John Higgins instigated the murders. This effectively ended the feud. Sam Horrell was now the only remaining Horrell brother. Sam Horrell moved his family to Oregon in 1882, then later to California. He died there in 1932. Higgins remained in Lampasas County, and in September, 1877, cowboy Ike Lantier was caught by Higgins stealing cattle. When Lantier drew a pistol, Higgins shot and killed him. That shooting was also ruled self defense.

1880's and after

In 1882, believed to have been in May, Higgins accompanied two hired hands into Mexico to buy horses. However, he became engaged in a gunfight with one of the Mexican men with whom he was buying the horses, after the two squabbled over the previously agreed price. Higgins killed the man, and he and his employees fled. Friends to the dead man pursued them, numbering around twenty men, resulting in a running gunbattle between the two groups. One of his men was wounded, but they continued to move as quickly as possible toward the Rio Grande River. All three made it across the river safely. Higgins would later comment that it was during this incident that he fought harder than at any other time in his life.

By the late 1880s, Higgins had moved to the Texas Panhandle, specifically Spur, Texas, and was hired by Fred Horsbrugh to work as a "protection man" for the "Spur Ranch". While in this employment, Higgins was involved in several gunfights with rustlers, in addition to lynching several he captured. In 1900, Higgins became involved in an ongoing dispute with fellow range detective and former sheriff Bill Standifer, which resulted in both men being fired in 1903. Standifer is alleged to have threatened Higgins son, Cullin, over a particular case involving Standifer's wife, which Cullin had handled, which possibly sparked the general dislike the two had for one another, and resulted in Higgins telling Standifer that if they met again it would be with guns. However, although that incident did happen, it is unlikely it was the only factor, and in reality the animosity between the two has never really been explained completely. During their time working on the "Spur Ranch", they often worked together, and were quite productive. However, Standifer was connected through family to the Horrell brothers, and it is possible that the troubles originated with that.

Standifer had only recently, in 1898, killed a man named Kiggings in a gunfight in Clairemont, Texas. Standifer had previously worked for the "Spur Ranch", and was elected as Sheriff for Hartley County, Texas, and after a two year term he once again returned to Spur. Higgins, it is said, had by that time accused Bill McComas, a friend to Standifer, of cattle rustling. Although it is not certain, Standifer evidently believed that Higgins had also included him in this accusation. Standifer confronted Higgins, and when the two began arguing, Fred Horsbrugh fired them both. However, Higgins convinced Horsbrugh to keep him on for another couple of months, until he could make arrangements to move his family. This infuriated Standifer.

On October 4, 1904, Standifer had spoken publicly about settling his differences with Higgins once and for all, indicating that one or the other would be killed. That day Standifer rode out to Higgins house. Higgins saw him coming, and rode out to meet him. Both men were armed, and although it is unknown exactly what was said, Standifer drew his gun as he went to dismount, to which Higgins reacted by shooting and killing him. The shooting was witnessed by Higgins daughter and brother in law. Ruled self defense, Higgins was never indicted.


He had first married in 1875, having two sons, Tom and Cullin, and a daughter, Bonnie Bay. After his first wife died due to illness, he married Lena Rivers Sweet. Together they had six daughters and one son, with one daughter and that son dying in infancy. Both his sons would become prominent attorneys, with Cullin being appointed as District Attorney for Scurry, Stonewall, Kent, Fisher, Jones, Throckmorton and Haskell County, Texas. Cullin was later assassinated due to a case he was involved in prosecuting.

Although known during his own time by many, Higgins never developed the well known reputation that many others dubbed "gunfighters" obtained. This was partly due to his rarely leaving Texas, thus being known more locally than abroad. Author Bill O'Neal wrote "The Bloody Legacy of Pink Higgins: A Half Century of Violence in Texas", which chronicaled Higgins life. By most accounts, Higgins is believed to have killed fourteen men in his lifetime. He died at his home of heart failure in 1914.

External links

* [ The Lawless Horrells Brothers]
* [ Pink Higgins]
* [ Gunman John "Pink" Higgins]
* [ Jerry Sinese, Records Concerning "Pink" Higgins]
*cite book
title=The Bloody Legacy of Pink Higgins: A Half Century of Violence in Texas
author=Bill O'Neal
publisher=Eakin Press

* [ Horrell-Higgins Feud Waymarker]
* [ Handbook of Texas, Higgins-Horrell]
* [ Texas Ranger Timeline, Horrell-Higgins feud]
* [ J. William "Bill" Standifer, Killed by "Pink" Higgins]

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