Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

April 21, 2013



Thinking back on my early years I have decided that my dad, Cecil, loved to go to rodeos.  We never discussed it but I recall that he usually attended any rodeo held in the San Augustine area.  I can recall several different locations for local rodeos in the 1940s and early 1950s.

My earliest memory of attending a rodeo was the most unusual of all, the Texas Prison Rodeo held in Huntsville, Texas annually.  In the mid 1940s I was quite young, but I remember our family riding in the car to Huntsville and taking in the rodeo on a Sunday in October.  I recall at least two occasions when we took the two hour trek.

I had never seen a really professional rodeo before the one in Huntsville.  I was even more awed because the participants were all prisoners, or “convicts” as we referred to them.  I saw many rodeo events including wild cow milking, calf belling, goat roping, wild mare milking, and bulldogging.  Of course, there was also the standard fare of bull riding, saddle bronc, and bareback bronc.  A recent addition to the fare was wild horse racing which I enjoyed.

I never did fully appreciate the background of the prison rodeo which began in 1931 and ended in 1986.  This event was launched during the depression years.  It was first held at the baseball park outside the “Walls” unit.  The baseball park, located on the east side of the prison, was normally home to the Walls Tigers baseball team.

The rodeo was the brainchild of Lee Simmons, General Manager of the Texas Prison System.  He envisioned it as entertainment for employees and inmates alike.  Welfare director Albert Moore, headed up the organization and planning for the early rodeos, along with Warden Walter Waid and livestock supervisor, R. O. McFarland.

The early attendants included a small crowd of local citizens and prison employees.  Simmons realized that he had a winner on his hands.  Two years later, over 15,000 fans traveled to Huntsville for the show.  Soon the Texas Prison Rodeo was drawing the largest crowds for a sporting event in the state of Texas.  With a lifespan of more than fifty years, the Prison Rodeo became a Texas tradition, held every Sunday in October.  Crowds grew to exceed 100,000 in some years.

A favorite event unique to the Texas Prison Rodeo was the “Hard Money Event”.  Forty inmates with red shirts were turned into the arena with a raging wild bull with a Bull Durham tobacco sack tied between its horns.  The object was for some brave inmate to get the sack and take it to the Judge. Fifty dollars usually was the prize stuffed inside the tobacco sack, but donations often ran the pay up, sometimes to $1,500.  This soon became a very popular event for the inmates due to the large amount of money involved, but it was one of the most dangerous ones as well.  The fast action kept fans on the edge of their seats throughout the rodeo event.


No rodeo was held in 1943 due to the war, but when it returned in 1944, all profits from the “Victory Rodeo” were invested in war bonds to contribute to the war effort.  The first and only time that the rodeo made a road appearance was in 1950 when it was held in Dallas in the early summer.  During this time a new structure made of concrete, steel, and brick was built to replace the old baseball stadium.  Weekday rodeos were added to the regularly scheduled Sunday performances in some years.  In the year 1942, the rodeos were all held on Thursdays.

Special entertainment began in 1951 with big stars such as Eddie Arnold, Guy Willis, Curley Fox, and Texas Ruby.  That started a yearly tradition which attracted the famous stars, Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton.  The most famous inmate performer, and one who sometimes stole the show from the paid entertainers, was inmate Juanita Phillips.  She was better known in the “free world” as Candy Barr.  Many of the inmates had never been in a rodeo or ridden on an animal in their lives.  But it was an honor and a status symbol to be among the cowboys selected to compete in the rodeo.

The last rodeo was held on October 26, 1986.  The fans, including several hundred inmates were entertained by the mother and daughter duo, The Judds.  Following the day’s performance, the chute gates were closed for good.  Due to costly renovations that the prison system said were necessary to the arena stands, the rodeo was shut down.  There have been discussions of resurrecting this rodeo event.  However, it will most likely remain only a fond memory for those who participated in, attended, or worked at the “Wildest Show Behind Bars”.


After my graduation from high school, attending college, and marriage, I never attended the Prison Rodeo again before it closed down.  That is regrettable as it was a fast-paced, exciting event.  But, I still have fond memories after more than sixty years.  That is one thing about a memory, one can go to the archives of the mind and relive events such as that.






PO BOX 511



Cell: 936-275-6986

Email: sugarbear@netdot.com

March 3, 2013



Author on left,
fellow employee on right”….



The ringing of the emergency telephone awoke me from a deep sleep.  It was very early in a spring morning in 1956 as I jumped out of my bunk bed and put on my white coveralls.  Someone was in need of an ambulance in the city of Waco, Texas at 2:35 in the morning.

I was in my junior year at Baylor University and had taken a job with the only emergency ambulance service in Waco.  It was an exciting job for a 20-year-old young man, but the atmosphere was not conducive to studying my courses.  The salary of $110 per month seemed very good at the time as it helped with my living expenses.  The job was somewhat confining as I had to be at the ambulance station at 2317 Washington Avenue whenever I was not in classes. My social life took a severe hit with this schedule.

The service was owned by A. D. Sherrill of Waco, who, along with his son, Buzzy, ran an efficient organization.  Mr. Sherrill insisted that the telephone be answered no later that the second ring, even during the middle of the night.  Mr. Sherrill owned two 1953 Chevrolet panel trucks which had been converted into ambulances, which we referred to as “hot shots”.  He also owned two 1955 Pontiac long ambulances which we used as transfer vehicles on non-emergency calls.   All the vehicles were equipped with Motorola two-way radios, which was a distinct advantage over the Connally Funeral Home who owned and operated one emergency ambulance not so equipped.

The ambulance driver looked over at me and said, “Let’s go.  We have an overdose victim at a motel.”  I jumped into the passenger side of the white ambulance as the driver started the engine and turned on the red lights.  Washington Avenue was still alive with vehicles even at this early hour.  The sound of the siren and the reflection of the red lights around me always was an adrenalin rush.

We arrived at the motel and carried the cot to a room where we were met by an older man wearing a bathrobe.  I noted a younger woman lying still on the bed, dressed in a night-gown.  The man was holding a bottle in his hand.  As we directed our attention to the young blonde on the bed, the driver asked, “What did she OD on?”  The man pointed to the bottle which we noted to be rubbing alcohol.  “She drank about a half-inch of this stuff, and then she just passed out.”  We tried to awaken her but without success.  “Let’s get her loaded and to the hospital as fast as we can”, the driver said.

This event happened in the days before patients were stabilized before transport as done by EMT’s and paramedics now.  In fact, we knew very little about administering first aid. The “load and leave” method was used, or some referred to it as “scoop and run” method was all that we were trained to do.

After loading her into the ambulance I got in the back with her and sat on the small fold-down chair.  I tried to find a pulse.  I checked her wrist, her carotid artery, and finally her chest.  There was no pulse or breathing that I could detect.  “This girl is dead”, I yelled to the driver.  “Step it up!”  Just in case I was wrong, I put an oxygen mask over her nose and turned it on.  The driver radioed the station to call Hillcrest hospital to advise them that we were on our way with a possible DOA (dead on arrival) patient.

The doctors at the hospital pronounced her dead and they began drawing blood from her arm.  A doctor made the comment, “that small amount of alcohol won’t kill anyone.”  At this point, our job done, we put clean sheets on the cot and went back to the station.

The following afternoon a couple of detectives from the Waco police department arrived wanting more information on the man who had been with her.  Unfortunately, we were in such a rush to get the patient to the hospital neither of us had stopped to get his name, address, and telephone number.  Mr. Sherrill commented to them, “Well, our guys are not police officers.  We don’t investigate, we transport.”


” Shows
A.D.Sherrill and son picking up a young man who had been struck by a
car” …….

By June 1, 1956, I had returned to San Augustine for the summer and started working at Wyman Roberts Funeral home. I never heard anything else about the “older man and young lady” case in Waco.  For the record, Mr. Sherrill sold his A-1 Ambulance service to the Daniel EMS of Hillsboro in 1982.  He died in 1985, and his son, Buzzy Sherrill died in 2007.  All that is left of the A-1 Ambulance Service of Waco are memories, some good, and some not so good.






PO BOX 511




Cell: 936-275-6986

Email: sugarbear@netdot.com

December 9, 2012




The first major feud to break out in Texas was born during Texas’ days as a Republic.  For years, a strip of land in East Texas that bordered Louisiana and Mexico had been ignored by the Spanish, Mexican, and Texas authorities.  By the time Texas became a Republic, the swatch of land had developed into a lawless place where land frauds, cattle rustlers, and killings were common.  This area was known as the Sabine Free State, or the Neutral Ground.  The lawlessness spilled over into the adjacent portion of East Texas still under Spanish control.  Even after Spain and the U.S. signed the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819, little changed in regards to the region.  After Texas won its independence from Mexico, the land remained wild and lawless.

In an attempt to control the rampant crime, a group of vigilantes formed and called themselves the “Regulators”.  This group was so extreme in their attempts to stop the crime, another group of counter-vigilantes soon formed to “moderate” the Regulators.  Before long, each faction grew to include sympathizers from miles away, spreading the war, which had been primarily located in just Harrison and Shelby counties, to involve Nacogdoches, San Augustine, and other East Texas counties.

Leading the “Regulators” were two men by the names of Charles W. Jackson and Charles Watt Moorman.  The whole affair began with a dispute between a man named Joseph Goodbread, and Sheriff Alfred George in 1840.  When the sheriff asked for Charles Jackson’s assistance in the matter, Jackson shot and killed Goodbread.  Ironically, Jackson, a former Mississippi riverboat captain, was a fugitive himself from Louisiana..  Arrested for Goodbread’s killing, Jackson was released pending a trial.  Some time later, he organized the Regulators to rid the area of cattle rustling.  Soon afterwards, the Moderators were formed with principal leaders Edward Merchant, John M. Bradley, and Deputy Sheriff James J. Cravens.

On July 12, 1841, Charles Jackson’s trial for the killing of Goodbread was scheduled before Judge John M. Hansford in Harrison county.  Hansford had been a friend of Goodbread, and was a well-known supporter of the Moderator faction.  Jackson’s friends, figuring that the man would not get a fair trial before Judge Hansford, arrived at the courthouse armed to the teeth.  When Judge Hansford saw the armed men, he fled the courthouse, leaving a note for the local sheriff stating, “I am unwilling to risk my person in the courthouse any longer, when I see myself surrounded by bravos and hired assassins.”  The trial ended before it even began.

This, of course, enraged the Moderators, who soon took matters into their own hands.  They ambushed and killed Jackson, as well as an innocent bystander whose name was Lauer.  Afterwards, the violence escalated, when the Regulators burned the homes of two families siding with the Moderators.  Charles Watt Moorman, allegedly a fugitive from Mississippi, now led the Regulators, spreading the reign of terror north into Panola and Harrison counties.  They hung Moderators and drove many others out of the area.  The group soon numbered so many men that Moorman actually considered overthrowing the Texas government and declaring himself the “dictator”.  In the meantime, residents were beginning to live in constant fear.

In October, 1841, Moorman led a party to avenge the Jackson-Lauer killing, surprising the assassins 25 miles north of Crockett, Texas.  They “arrested” the McFadden brothers and all were hanged with the exception of the youngest brother.

In the meantime, articles of impeachment had been filed against Judge Hansford for his failure to bring Jackson to trial.  On January 19, 1842, Hansford left office to escape the impeachment trial and retired on his farm near Jonesville.  Some years later, a mob of Regulators appeared at this house, demanding possession of some slaves that he was holding under a writ of sequestration.  When Hansford refused to turn over the slaves, the Regulators killed him.

In August, 1844, more than 200 Moderators attacked some 60 Regulators near Shelbyville in what became known as the Church Hill battle.  Finally, President Sam Houston had had enough.  Previous to this time Houston had stated publicly, “I think it advisable to declare Shelby County, Tenaha, and Terrapin’s Neck free and independent governments, and let them fight it out among themselves.”  However, at the time Houston was working to annex the Republic of Texas with United States.  He felt that it would be unadvisable to have a civil war taking place in East Texas as this would not help matters.

On August 14, 1844, Houston ordered Travis G. Brooks and Alexander Horton to lead 500 militia into East Texas and make peace between the factions.  Brooks was immediately arrested, held, but soon released.  Exasperated, Houston himself rode to East Texas and set up headquarters in San Augustine to take charge of the battle.  Through his diplomacy of fairness and evenhandedness, Houston was able to get both factions to sign a peace treaty.  Both factions put aside their differences during the Mexican-American War and joined together with Captain L. H. Mobitt’s company of fighters.

Though there was some initial resistance from both the Regulators and the Moderators, the show of force by the Republic of Texas finally put an end to the conflict.  Leaders of both sides were arrested, including Charles Watt Moorman.  Some years later after his release, Moorman was shot and killed in Louisiana in 1850.

May 20, 2012








The boarding house on Wettermark street near the campus of Stephen F. Austin State College was the setting for many a juvenile prank during the fall of 1955.  I was a freshman student at the Nacogdoches college living in the large, two-story house with eight other male students at the time.  More time was invested in playing pranks on each other than in studying the expensive courses required for a degree.

Looking back on this year I am amazed that I passed any courses at all as so much time was spent playing dominoes or forty-two than anything else, except perhaps jokes and pranks on the other residents.

One of the residents was a young man from a small town near Tyler.  He was somewhat socially inept, the perfect target for innocent harassment.  One fall afternoon while *Jim was gone someone of our group devised the perfect practical joke which had Jim’s name all over it.  After explaining the details of the prank to the rest of us, we all agreed.  All the tools needed were as many alarm clocks as we could gather together, which was a total of five.

Most alarm clocks in those days were the wind-up kind not needing electricity to work.  We entered Jim’s room and began carrying out our devious plot.  We set each alarm clock to go off at thirty-minute intervals, beginning at two o’clock in the morning.  Then we hid each one in places such as desk drawers, the closet, chest of drawers, and under his bed.  Our plan completed, we all retreated to our own rooms and waited.

Jim returned home just in time for supper at the boarding house, an experience in itself.  Around midnight we all retired for the night awaiting the results of our plan.  At two o’clock I heard the muffled sound of an alarm clock in Jim’s room.  Then the sounds of someone stumbling over furniture in the dark combined with a few choice words.  Our scheme was working.

Things settled down for awhile as he evidently  located the clock and turned it off.  It would not be long before the second one would go off.

At the sound of the second alarm clock more choice words were heard as he searched out the location of this clock.  This time he yelled out,  “Who the hell is doing this to me?”  I heard several voices from other rooms: “It wasn’t me.”   “I didn’t do it.”  “What clocks?”  “Anybody hear any clocks?”

After the third clock chimed Jim finally got up and began an all-out search for the remaining clocks which he located.  Seems I recall a couple of them being hurled at the wall.  “This is not funny.  I have a test tomorrow”, he whined.  The boarding house was extremely quiet the rest of the night.

Poor Jim was a good-natured fellow and accepted our pranks as just a part of college boarding house culture.  However, I recall that the next week several of us had our beds “short-sheeted” by a person or persons unknown. Tit for tat, an eye for an eye, sowing or reaping, giving and receiving – whatever one wants to call it, it was definitely in effect here.

I have often wondered what happened to Jim.  He did not return to the boarding house the next year.  It was suggested that he probably became a clock and watch repair man, considering his background and experience.

* name changed


About the Author

Neal Murphy resides in his birthplace, San Augustine, Texas, with his wife Clara. He has two children, Kay Fatheree, a pastor’s wife now living in Abilene, Texas, and Douglas Murphy, a police officer in North Carolina, and has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Neal earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master’s degree in insurance from the Insurance Institute of America. He also attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he studied religion courses. He is a deacon at a Baptist Church, has taught Sunday school classes, and directed church choirs for many years. He began his writing in 2005, and many of his short stories about his life growing up in a small Texas town have been published in Reminisce Magazine, Good Old Days Magazine, Looking Back Magazine, and the Town Square Magazine. He had a story included in Memories of Mother, a book published by Xulon Press. Another story was published in the book Dear Old Golden School Days published by the DRG Publishing Group. He published a book, From the Heart of a Country Preacher, by Xulon Press in 2006. His second book entitled Those Were the Days was published by Xlibris Inc. in 2007. In 2008 he published another book, The Psalms—From the Heart of a Country Preacher, by Xlibris Inc. He is a founding member of the Deep East Texas Literary Guild of San Augustine, Texas, founded in 2009. He has weekly stories in the San Augustine Tribune and the Toledo Chronicle, an online newspaper. He has a monthly story in the Shelby County Today online newspaper.

Blog at WordPress.com.