"The Murder Steer"


by: Bobby McDonald




The country east of Ft. Davis, in the Big Bend Country is rough, ranching country.....tough on cattle, horses, and cowboys. Well, it was in this rough country, about 30 miles east of Ft. Davis, that local cattlemen were conducting their second roundup of the season, to brand those calves that had been missed in the first roundup in the fall. The leader of the roundup was reported to be Eugene Kelly and among the ranchmen were Henry Powe, powerful cattleman, strong in stature, with a full black beard and his left arm having been amputated at the elbow, during his service, from injuries received during the Civil War. He had come to Texas, from Alabama, and was running a herd of cattle on public grazing in the Big Bend Country.

Two other men were involved in the roundup, Fine Gillihand and Mannie Clements, both of "shady" character, among the cattlemen.



One of the founders of the local Methodist Church, Powe had been successful in bringing his family to the Big Bend and gathering a moderate sized herd of cattle, that bore his brand.

Well, on January 28, 1891, the roundup was taking place in the small settlement area of Leoncita, particulary to brand those calves that had been missed in the fall roundup and to steer the bull calves. There were around 3,000 head of cattle in the herd that had been gathered, by all of the cowboys.




Two of the cowboys came to Powe and told him that there was a "brindle" bull yearling that belonged to his HHP cow herd, that was unbranded and had escaped the irons back in the fall and the spring before, but was known to be the calf of his cow. Seperating the unbranded calves from the cows begun and Powe cut the brindle yearling out of the herd and put him with his other calves to be held and branded, and then returned to gather others.





Powe looked up and saw Fine Gillihand
driving the yearling back to the herd, so he rode out and met him, and explained to him that several of the cowboys had told him the yearling belonged to him. "You'll play hell branding that yearling unless you can produce the HHP cow that he belongs to," exclaimed Gillihand.

Powe rode over to some of the cowboys that had told him that the yearling was his and then proceeded to bring the brindle animal out of the herd for branding the second time.





As Powe made it to the edge of the herd, Gillihand rode up at a fast pace and confronted him, as he unbuckled the saddle pocket where he kept his pistol. He "dropped in" behind Powe as he dismounted his horse and went down on one knee. He aimed at Powe's back as he attempted to dismount. Being a "one-armed" man, Powe had to wrap his bridle reins around his arm, and spooked the horse. Gillihand ran up to within five or six yards of Powe and shot at him point-blank. Powe managed to get off one shot, as well, but soon fell to the ground mortally wounded. Mannie Clements rode up and grabbed Powe's pistol, as Gillihand shot him one more time "for good measure."

Gillihand and Clements mounted quickly and headed away from the trouble.

Cattleman Powe's teenaged son, Robert, came to his father's aid, but he was already dead.


The cowboys, as they gathered the herd, that roundup, branded "MURDER" on the bull yearling's side, denoting the event that he had caused. The brindle steer was seen for years in the Big Bend Country, as he served as a reminder of the perils of ranching in the rough, Fort Davis country, and how quickly one man's life could change.