365 Days of Texas True Crime: Saddle Thieves
I don’t often go back far enough when I’m writing and researching my stories for 365 TTC so today let’s go a little further than we normally do.
Formed in 1887 and organized May 7th, 1910, Upton County was named in honor of John Cunningham Upton, a distinguished Confederate officer who was killed at Manassas in 1962. The county is made up of sheep raising and cattle with dotted oil wells throughout. It was mainly a stock raising county. The original county seat was Upland, which would now be considered a Texas Ghost Town. It happens to be just about 10 miles north of Rankin so one of these days I’ll try and find it and take some pictures for you guys.
Anyway, back in July of 1890, a cowboy named Sam Murray worked on a the Ballet Ranch at Centralia Draw. On the morning of July 21st, he woke up early as he always did to get after the days work. His normal A.M. routine was interrupted however, with the discovery of his missing quirt and two saddles (a quirt is a short handled riding whip with a braided leather lash). After noticing a pair of older discarded saddles nearby he put two and two together and figured the theft had happened at some time during the night. Four riders had been seen passing through the ranch the night before. With the fresh tracks that were left by the riders leading west in the direction of Upton County, Murray hurried over to the Bartlett Ranch to see if he could get some help finding the saddle thieves.
At the Bartlett Ranch he found a young stockman, Will Landrum, who was ready to help. They set off tracking the saddle thieves twenty-five miles to Castle Gap where they saw four men having lunch under a windmill.
From a distance, Sam identified the saddles the men had on their horses as being his. Apparently one of the men was easy to pick out of the posse, his name was Lorenzo Porrez and could be spotted by the limp he had from one of his legs being shorter than the other (birth defects were far more common place back in the days of old west health care).
Will and Sam decided that Will would keep tracking the posse and Sam would go back for more help. This endeavor however, did not work out like it was planned and around 4 o’clock Will caught back up to Sam and the posse ended up getting the jump on the two. They had circled back on Sam and as he caught up with Will the four riders began galloping toward the duo, guns a blaze’n…as they say.
Sam and Will shot back as they raced away but were split up during the melee.
Sam Murray was able to outrun the horseback shoot out and made it to the T.X. Ranch (a large spread covering Crane and Upton County) where he reported that the last time he saw Will Landrum alive was about 2 miles back with Porrez and another Mexican about 200 yards behind him still in hot pursuit. There he would recruit backup and head back to the last place he had seen Will Landrum.
Landrum’s hat was found and his horse wandering aimlessly. His quirt was laying across the trail and blood was seen ten or fifteen feet off the road with fresh drag marks in the dirt. Sam and the help he gathered followed the drag marks to the body of Will Landrum. He had been stabbed twice in the chest with one stab wound piercing his heart. It was reported in the paper that Wills brains had been beaten out and piled up on a rock with his body behind dragged nearly a mile off and left beside the road. Off in a distance three riders could still be seen as they made their retreat.
Will Landrum was buried (by Sam) right were he was found which is the McElroy Ranch today, just northeast of Castle Gap. At the time the area was under the jurisdiction of Midland County so word was sent to Midland County Sheriff Allison.
It took about four months to apprehend three of the four men responsible. Sam Murray was able to identify Lorenzo Porrez pretty easy with that distinct limp of his. He was sentenced to hang in Midland for Will Landrum’s murder by Judge Kennedy. At some point after the sentence was given to Porrez he was visited by a priest in prison. It was in the prison, in front of the priest, all the other prisoners and Sheriff Allison, that Porrez stated that he was in fact responsible for killing Will Landrum. He stayed that it was him who used the knife to stab Landrum while another Mexican (it's the paper's vernacular not mine) held him down.
Juan Benavidez’s trial in Big Spring ended in a hung jury, his second trial in Colorado City however, would set him free. He was found not guilty. Benavidez confessed that he was with Porrez during the altercation and that he did pursue Sam for a bit but was not involved in his murder. He also swore to the fact that Will and Sam shot at them first. A third un-named member of posse was also charged with the murder in the second degree and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. The forth of the pistol packing saddle thieves was never caught.
Lorenzo Porrez walked up the steps of the scaffold for his hanging that was set up on the northeast corner of the Midland County Courthouse square. He was led by Sheriff Allison that day on November 27th, 1891. His rights were read to him by Stanton Catholic Priest, Albert Wagner and he made a full confession of his guilt before his sentence was carried out in front of the large crowd that had gathered at 3:15 that day. Lorenzo Porrez is said to have been the first man to be legally hung in Midland County, his grave is likely in the northwest corner of Fairview Cemetery in Midland in the paupers sections, in an unmarked grave. (I didn’t even know there was such a section and will be locating it within the week)
Much of the information for today's story was found at the Upton County Texas History & Genealogy Facebook page.