Infamous Pecos County Sheriff "Dud" Barker (third horseman from the left in the bow tie) while a Texas Ranger under the command of Captain Bill McDonald.
Barker later went on to become Pecos County Sheriff, a post he held from 1904 to 1926 while living in the Old Jail with his family. He was known for his strict enforcement of Prohibition, a stance which irritated many Pecos County citizens, but to which he replied, "I don't make the laws, I just enforce them." Barker and his family lived in the Pecos County Jail during his term, which had living quarters for this purpose.
Pecos County historian Olan George recalled that during Barker's time as sheriff, the front yard of the old jail was his pride and joy. Back then the prisoners could be used for work, so the sheriff spent many hours along with his prisoners doing yard work. "Had there been such an award back then, the old jail with its grass, hedges, flowers and trees would have been chosen Yard of the Month."
Sheriff "Dud" Barker was drafted into the sheriff's office. After the assassination of Sheriff A.J. Royal at his desk (a killing that was never solved) a group of Fort Stockton's political leaders visited with Barker and asked that he run for sheriff in the 1904 election. According to Roland Warnock, this citizens' group first approached the Texas Rangers to inquire about someone who could straighten out things in their town. "I have a man," replied the Ranger captain, "But I have to tell you that if you make him your sheriff, he'll BE your sheriff."
"That's what we want," replied the group. "Someone who will put an end to all of this monkey business."
Little did they know how prophetic that Ranger captain's words would become.
Barker began his 22-year tenure on January 1, 1905, and according to long-time resident and historian Olan George, one of the first things Barker did was spy on a poker game being played by the town's prominent citizens. Because gambling was against the law, he visited each of the players individually and asked that they pay their fines without asking any questions.
On the night of November 8, 1912, Sheriff Barker shot and killed eight Mexican railroad workers who had been drunk at a cantina. The group had run off Tom Scott, the deputy Barker had sent to quiet the drunks down. Barker put on his gunbelt, then told Scott to go home and stay out of sight, which he did. Before the sun rose the next morning, he would have killed eight men. Few people asked how many were armed, or if any of the dead men had drawn a gun on Barker. No questions were asked, and Barker continued to be the "true law west of the Pecos."
Sheriff Barker ran his own brand of justice, with the statement, "I don't make the laws, I just enforce them," and nowhere was this more evident than during Prohibition. Most of the adjoining counties had law enforcement that winked at illegal liquor. Not Sheriff Barker. Pecos County was one of the most dreaded counties in Texas for bootleggers, or prominent citizens who happened to be caught with booze. Their arrests turned more of the city leaders against him, but he was re-elected.
The turning point came when one of Barker's deputies was caught in bed with another man's wife. The deputy shot and killed the husband who had surprised them, then tried to hide the body on Sierra Madera, the mountain just south of Fort Stockton on Highway 385 to Marathon. He had no way of knowing that a hunting party had set up a camp near where he planned to dispose of the body.
The hunting party was on the Sierra Madera at the invitation of Mack Adams, the manager of the E.L. Ranch (now known as the La Escalera Ranch). It included Sheriff Dud Barker and Hood Mendel along with some other men. Hood and Barker volunteered to go shoot some camp meat, and were about 10 minutes out of the camp when they encountered the deputy making a large pile of wood. Startled, he offered no explanation, so Barker dug into the pile until he found a man's foot and leg. The deputy explained that the man had come at him with a pair of scissors and he shot him in self defense. Barker didn't arrest the man, or even take his gun, but told him to go on. This enraged Hood Mendel, so much so that he and Barker soon became bitter enemies.
In the election of 1926 Barker was defeated at the polls. He waited until the last, legal day of his term, December 31, then loaded his family's possessions onto trucks parked by the old jail. Before midnight, he and some men he had in readiness "took the necessary tools and chopped and cut every tree, hedge and flower right down to the ground and left them laying there as he headed for Alpine where he would make his home for the rest of this life."
Reprinted from A Roundup of Memories, by Olan George, copyright 1987, Pioneer Book Publishers