Hellfire & Hot Tamales Dave Allison, et al. vs. Pascual Orozco Jr., et al.

Dave Allison, et al. vs. Pascual Orozco Jr., et al.
Dave Allison, et al. vs. Pascual Orozco Jr., et al.

August 30, 1915

William Davis “Dave” Allison pulls up short, jumping from the saddle for a closer look. Five riders, possibly horse thieves, have come through a narrow gap on the eastern face of the Eagle Mountains, southeast of Sierra Blanca in far West Texas.

The well-seasoned and aging Allison, a former Texas sheriff and an ex-Ranger for both Texas and Arizona, could be sure of two things:

The outlaws are making tracks for High Lonesome Peak in the Van Horn Mountains, not the nearby Rio Grande, and the summer sun will soon be beating down absent a hint of mercy.

Constable Allison winks at his young partner, Herff Alexander Carnes, a U.S. mounted customs inspector. Waiting for reinforcements, Allison surmises they are but two hours behind, according to the dying embers of a quickly prepared breakfast fire—one hastily deserted.

Riding fast through Frenchman’s Canyon are some of the posse Allison is waiting on: the Love brothers, George, Bob and Rowdy, with two nephews, Prince and B.N., and the sons of another brother, Thomas Decatur Love, the former sheriff of Borden County. Also along for the ride are El Paso County Deputy Sheriff W.H. Schrock and cowboy Tom Bell and, maybe, Pete Wetzel and J.P. English. Dick Love is manning a communications outpost at Sierra Blanca.

From Van Horn, on the east side of the Eagle Mountains, comes Culberson County Sheriff John A. Morine, his deputy A.B. Medley and a hurriedly deputized cowhand Joel Fenley.

In but short order these possemen converge with Allison and Carnes. Allison, due to age, law enforcing know-how and a fearless
reputation, assumes mutually-conceded command. The hunt is on.

At Stephens’ Tank, a windmill, cowboys Hardy Merchon and Bertie Bristow update Allison’s heavily-armed posse about the lay of the land and the out-of-the-way box canyon just south of High Lonesome Peak; they’ll find only one way in—or out! The terrain is perfect for mal hombres seeking a hot tamale dinner break, smokes and a short siesta. It’s just what the doctor ordered, too, for lawmen wanting to unleash hellfire on five Mexican marauders.

Warily the horse thieves will learn of their blunder—big time—stepping right into a trap of their own making. Foolishly thinking they thwarted further detection the evening before at the Black Hills Mine, the five horsemen bumble into the cacti-studded cul-de-sac wholly oblivious to geography’s cruel indifference. They loosen their cinches and break out the foodstuffs and tobacco.

Dividing into two platoons the possemen make ready. Sheriff Morine and seven men take high ground on the right side; Allison, Carnes and the rest of the men  scramble to the left for launching their share of the tactic.

After resisting the customary challenge to throw up hands and surrender, the five horsemen are caught in a withering crossfire. According to the possemen’s official reports the Mexicans—Pascual Orozco Jr., Jose F. Delgado, Christoforo Caballero, Andreas Sandoval and Miguel Terrazas—opt for fight over flight, shooting at the lawmen’s first show. After a brief fight, the five Mexicans meet their Maker and a mortician on this day.

The pursuers collectively tout self-defense, pure and simple. Critics—plenty of them too—cry it is a coldhearted case of La Ley de Fuga (law of the flight), which recognizes an officer’s right to shoot escaping prisoners; this “take no prisoners” convention is practiced on both sides of the borderline.

The firefight is finished, but the legal firestorm is far from finis!

The Lead Up to the Fight

On August 29 (the day before the gunfight), the Mexican outlaws ride onto Dick Love’s ranch headquarters on the west side of the Eagles, seeking nails for horseshoes and nourishment. They outnumber the two employees who are going about their normal workday.

When Dick Love rolls onto the scene, with two more cowhands, the numerical advantage equalizes. The surprised interlopers scoot for cover, spurring with madness.

During the ensuing and hard-riding chase the bandits at last clamor for cover behind an outcropping of rocks at the Black Hills Mine. It offers a high spot overlooking the flats along Red Light Draw, where the civilian posse’s progress is temporarily checked by a long-range pelting from spanking new .30-30 Marlin lever-action rifles.

Soon darkness blankets the desert battlefield—no casualties thus far. Common sense suspends any brassy or wrongheaded nighttime tear along twisting mountain paths, maybe leading straight into an ambush. Any more gunplay or chasing badmen can wait until daybreak.

Meanwhile, before dawn cracks, Dick Love rushes to Sierra Blanca and a telegraph connection. The five hunted men rush too, right through Frenchman’s Canyon, before sunlight, and fast across the valley floor separating the Eagle Mountains and the Van Horn Range.

Dick Love succinctly messages John A. Morine, the newly installed Culberson County sheriff at Van Horn: “Look out for five Mexicans in Eagle Mountains, well armed, are going your way. R.C. Love.”

Red-Hot Texas Politics

Cowboy John A. Morine became Culberson County sheriff unexpectedly. Texas politics are always hot, sometimes perilous. Morine’s predecessor, John H. Feely, was trying to intercede in gunplay between a  county judge and a distraught adversary. One was armed with a  .30-30; the other, a shotgun. Unluckily, the sheriff caught a stray bullet, mortally. The judge was wounded in the hand; his opponent, in the left testicle. The county was in need of a new sheriff. Morine got the job, no law experience necessary.

Aftermath: Odds & Ends

To temper growing anti-American sentiment along the border, a Culberson County grand jury indicted the possemen for murder. All surrendered on the courthouse steps, were tried and were speedily given a “not guilty” verdict by an all-white jury. The outcome was not a shocker. It did, however, put the matter to rest: Fifth Amendment protections against Double Jeopardy guaranteed burial of criminal charges—as planned.


The seized items from Pascual Orozco Jr.’s party were interesting—and incriminating: Five new Marlin rifles, two handguns, a Smith & Wesson and a Colt’s .45 six-shooter; 1,500 cartridges; five stolen horses; a horseshoeing hammer stolen from Dick Love’s ranch; black dye for disguising his hair and mustache was found on Orozco’s person; and Orozco’s saddlebags held “coded messages and reports of American troop movements.”


Though he looked mild-mannered and somewhat like a compassionate college professor, Dave Allison was anything but. Shortly after the killing of Orozco and due to the insurgent upheaval, a young and naive lieutenant, George S. Patton, was sent to Sierra Blanca, one of his first duty stations. There, Lt. Patton met Allison. He was so awed by Allison, he wrote a letter to his wife mentioning the encounter, characterizing Dave as a “very quiet looking old man with a sweet face and white hair, the most noted gun man here in Texas….”


In Europe the adage was “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” In Texas, “If God had wanted men to fight like cats and dogs, He’d given ’em claws and paws.” Live by the gun, die by the gun! While working as a cattle association’s detective, Allison was murdered on Easter Sunday 1923 by a duo of suspected cattle thieves. Still with U.S. Customs 10 years later, Herff Carnes was fatally gunned down along the Rio Grande by smugglers.


At first Orozco’s body was interred at El Paso’s noted Concordia Cemetery, with a Methodist minister officiating, rather than a Catholic priest. Later, after receiving the okay from Orozco’s bitter enemy Pancho Villa, Orozco’s body was removed to his homeland, Chihuahua City, Mexio.


Recommended: Fearless Dave Allison: Border Lawman by Bob Alexander, published by High Lonesome Books; and Apache Days and After by Thomas Cruse, published by Caxton Press.

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