The Early Days
In 1885, at 25 years old, Lucas Charles Brite joined a cattle drive headed west from Frio County and settled his herd at the foot of Capote Mountain, Presidio County, Texas. He spent the following years building his business and reputation as a successful cowman.
Brite bought registered heifers from The Wyoming Hereford Ranch and bulls from Gudgell & Simpson as the breeding basis of his herd. In 1915, hoof and mouth disease swept through the US and ranchers were threatened with quarantine of their cattle. L.C. responded to the epidemic by closing his herd and establishing a new breeding program. He began raising his own bulls, and developed a pasture-based system of line breeding. Refined by years of careful monitoring and selection, the program continues to this day.
L.C. and his wife, Edward "Eddie" Anderson Brite, built the First Christian Church in Marfa, endowed the Brite Divinity School at TCU, and committed themselves to philanthropy throughout their lives. L.C. went on to become the president of the Panhandle and Southwestern Stockmen's Association, 1918-1920, which would later become the Texas and Southwestern Cattleraiser's Association. He also served as the president of the National American Livestock Association, now the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, 1927-1928. He remained involved in such organizations until his death in 1941.
Five generations later, the ranch is still family owned and operated.
The Brite Ranch Raid
The following article is written with regard to historical accuracy, using sources from the time period, as well as any other reputable accounts currently available.
In 1891, troops abandoned Fort Davis, Texas, for an ongoing lack of necessity. Twenty years later, in 1911, Francisco Madero and the Mexican Revolution began causing widespread unrest on the border. That same year, L.C. Brite and a neighbor, John Means, travelled to Austin to request protection for Presidio County, then rode direct to Fort Sam Houston to seek further assistance. Troops were placed along the Rio Grande less than a week later as a result of their efforts. In 1913 Camp Marfa was established as the headquarters of the Big Bend Military District. Though Madero died in 1913, his loyal supporters, Pascual Orozco and Francisco "Pancho" Villa continued the revolution.
It was around the time of Villa’s battle of Ojinaga that an employee of the Brite Ranch, Eulalio Moreno, had both his ears cut off by revolutionists south of the border.
On a Saturday, three days before Christmas in 1917, a young Mexican boy arrived at the Brite Ranch Headquarters. His behavior was unusual as he was not talkative, saying only that he was to meet a friend from Pecos. He stayed in the bunkhouse for the first two nights, then on Christmas Eve night, chose to camp alone outside the headquarters. Ranch hands noticed him lighting sticks in his fire and waving them about after dark, and they assumed it a young boy's entertainment. It later became clear that this was a signal to watchers on the rim.
The Brite family had gone to stay in Marfa for the holiday. They had left the ranch manager, Van Neill, his wife, his visiting parents (Mr. & Mrs. Sam Neill) two nieces (Dorothy & Jessie Weatherby), and four employees (Cresencia Natividad, Louisa Campos, Jose Sanchez, and another hand) at the ranch.
On Christmas morning, Sam Neill stepped out of the main house to the separate kitchen area to make coffee, when he saw a large group of men riding in from the south, perhaps 45 in total. These men were armed and mounted bandits from Mexico. He realized quickly what was happening and ran back into the house, shouting to rouse his sleeping family. The men rushed the women and children to the safest room and took up rifles.
As the bandits surrounded their home, the men in the house positioned themselves at the front and back of the house and opened fire. The bandits fired back at the windows the men shot from. During the ensuing gun fight, Sam Neill shot the leader off of his horse. The leader was later identified as Placedo Villa Nuevo, largely believed to be aligned with Pancho Villa. Van Neill was wounded in the face during the gunfight.
During the shoot-out, the women ventured from the safe room to attempt a call to Marfa for help, only to find the phone lines had been cut.
The bandits captured two ranch hands, and sent one, Jose Sanchez, to send word to the main house to surrender. Upon their refusal, the bandits conceded to cease fire if they were delivered the keys to the Brite Store and were led to the remuda of saddle horses. The Neills agreed, and delivered them the keys. While Jose led them to the horses, the others began raiding the store and attempted to break in to the store safe with an axe.
The mail hack in those days maintained a route between Candelaria and
Brite, before continuing on to Valentine. The mail hack was on schedule as they rode into Brite that day, and Mr. Mickey Welch was the driver. He had with him two passengers from Mexico. The bandits rushed out to meet them and demanded they step down from the wagon. They shot each of the passengers, left them to die, and placed a noose around Mickey’s neck. They led him to the store where they hung him from the rafters and slit his throat.
Van Neill sent word to the raiders that they were expecting a padre to arrive, and begged for the safe passage of him and his family. Soon after, Reverend H.M. Bandy, along with his wife and two young girls, arrived at the headquarters. At the reverend’s and Neill’s pleadings, the raiders allowed their safe passage into the house with the understanding that no one was allowed to leave.
A mile and a half from the headquarters and out of sight behind the rocky hills, James L. Cobb lived with his family. He had heard gun fire and went up the road to investigate. When he realized what was happening, he rushed home and loaded his family into the car. They drove twelve miles east into Kinnersley Canyon, to the home of Doc Gourley, all four tires going flat just as they arrived. Cobb begged use of their phone and called L.C. Brite in Marfa.
L.C., upon hearing the news, enlisted the help of Colonel Longhorne and the Eighth Cavalry, the Texas Rangers, Sheriff Cline, and several other civilians who were willing to fight and loan the use of their automobiles. They set off on the 35 mile journey making as much as 30 miles per hour over the rough country.
Van Neill’s brother-in-law, Hodge Hunter, came up the road from Valentine at about 11 o’clock. As he approached, the store keeper Pierre Arthur, who lived in the North House a hundred yards from the store, went out on the porch and waved him back. He turned and hurried back to Valentine, where he enlisted help and later returned to the ranch.
The raiders gathered the 40 horse remuda from the flat and drove them into the corrals. They unsaddled their own mounts, packed them with looted goods from the store, and saddled the Brite string to ride. The men started west towards Mexico, across the hard Rim Rock country. They were headed for the pass; the nearest of the trails that led off the steep rim.
The posse arrived at the ranch at about 12:30pm, where Van Neill joined them and set off for the pass. The trail off the rim was too narrow for their cars, and no horses were left for them to ride. They set off on foot after the raiders.
The bandits slowed; some of the horses’ packs had turned, and others were balking. The posse came within a distant range and opened fire. The bandits scattered in the confusion of the ensuing fire. Unable to follow, the posse returned home.
According to the Texas State Historical Association:
“Langhorne's soldiers borrowed horses from local ranchers and joined the troops from Ruidosa in pursuit of the robbers. On the morning of December 26 the raiders crossed the Rio Grande at the Los Fresnos ford into Mexico. Later that day some 200 members of troops M and G of the Eighth Cavalry crossed at the same point and pursued them. The American forces engaged in a running fight… with the raiders and killed eighteen of them in a canyon not far from Pilares, Chihuahua. They recovered some of the stolen goods, but most of the horses were lost or in such poor condition that they had to be shot. The other raiders escaped into the mountains. Three civilians were killed and one United States soldier, Private John F. Kelly, was wounded in the calf during the conflict… Fiske and his men returned to Texas with the recovered property that evening.”
The incident led to the construction of a small fort at the ranch, equipped with a telegraph key, searchlight, machine guns, and long-range rifles. A Texas Ranger, Clint Holden, was permanently stationed at the ranch for a year following the incident. He held watch at a camp overlooking the trail into Mexico that the bandits had left on.
Decades after the incident, a family from El Paso visited the ranch and erected a marker over an unmarked grave for their grandfather Demetrio Olguin. Their research had led them to discover that he was one of the murdered Mexican passengers on the mail hack that Christmas Day.
The Texas Rangers soon led what was suspected to be a retaliation about a month after the raid. They rode to the small border town of Porvenir, Texas and killed 15 Mexican citizens; both men and teenage boys. They returned with questionable reports of what had occurred, purportedly claiming they had found the bodies dead upon their arrival. A federal investigation was requested by Mexican Ambassador Ygnacio Bonillas, and spearheaded (in conjunction with many other Ranger offenses) by state legislator Jose T. Canales . The state-wide investigation concluded with the disbanding of the company, several dismissals of the participating members, and an over-all reduction in the ranger force. The full archive of the investigation can be accessed at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/law/index.html (the Porvenir report consists of several pages at the very end of Volume 3).
National Park Service (2012, September 22) Fort Davis: Frontier Post. Retrieved December 4th, 2020. https://www.nps.gov/foda/fortdavisfrontierpost.htm
Encyclopædia Britannica, (2020, October 26) Francisco Madero, President of Mexico. Retrieved Dec. 4th, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Francisco-Madero
Noel, Keith L. (1950, First Edition) The Brites of Capote. Fort Worth, Texas: Stafford-Lowdon Printing Co.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission (2019, April 10) Rangers and Outlaws. Retrieved February 10th, 2020. https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/law/index.html
Handbook of Texas Online, Julia Cauble Smith, Brite Ranch Raid. Retrieved February 12, 2020. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qyb02.
St. Louis Post - Dispatch (1918, February 8) Investigation of Killing of 15 Mexicans is Ordered. Retrieved February 10th, 2020.
El Paso Herald (1923, February 10) The Story of Lucas Brite, Pioneer, and of the Bandit Raid on His Ranch. Retrieved February 12th, 2020. https://www.newspapers.com/image/41924590/?terms=brite