legends are created from speculation, maybe from a sloppy observation or fragments of information, over time they become larger than life. This is the legend of Texas Jack from Rattlesnake Canyon.
In a time before cars and telephones, when the west really was wild and filled with indians and outlaws, there was a gang of horse thieves working out of Spokane. It was 1882 and the Northern Pacific had just finished a railroad into Spokane causing a boom to the population and the surrounding area as pioneers and homesteaders used Spokane as a jump off point for their new lives. Waiting in the shadows was a gang of rugged looking hombres, waiting to sell them fresh horses, of different degrees of usefulness to different degrees of suckers.
This was the unnamed gang that Texas Jack rode with. After unloading the horses in Spokane and a couple nights in the big city living like cattlemen at the end of the trail, once more they would meet up and hit the dusty roads headed back towards Okanogan. As the small group thundered across the vast fields of sage and bunch grass they kept their eyes open for small unguarded farms from which they could steal.Their main target was greenhornes, new pioneers on the edge of civilization with more courage than practical experience. The boys knew how to sneak like a coyote on a chicken, soon all the greenhornes horses would be running free, and even if the new pioneer saw it happen, there was little he could do. As the boys rode along they gathered more and more horses this way, eventually it was hard to cover the movement of such a large herd, so they would head down into the grand coulee, and in an amazing feat of legendary proportions, move the horses to the top of Steamboat Rock. The horses were easily contained since there is only one way up or down, the route could easily be blocked. The gang would then split up going their own ways for a set amount of time.
Texas Jack would ride North towards the Columbia River. There was an unnamed canyon that was used as a winter camp by the people who had been there for centuries. For the original people in Rattlesnake Canyon it was a place of safety full of spirits and stories. They fished the river on the sandbar at the mouth of the canyon, and fresh water springs ran from the walls of the canyon. Serviceberry grew in abundance. It was in one of these caves that Texas Jack made his home. He added supports made from drift wood and mingled freely with the natives, preferring their company to that of the pioneers down to the south. Pioneers were starting to spring up everywhere and the gang was getting restless. The native people believed that horse stealing was a capitol offense, and the new pioneers moving in more and more frequently seemed to have picked up that idea. Pioneer justice was very much a real thing in a time when citizens were not only allowed but sometimes encouraged to take up action against the unjust. Hangings, tar and featherings… so many cruel ways to die.
Texas Jack didn’t live alone either. He lived with an uneducated half breed that would follow him around dressed in scruffy men’s clothing. He treated her mean, and she wasn’t much more than a slave to Texas Jack, who himself was never educated in any school. When enough pioneers started arriving that a small community sprung up the gang knew the area was too hot for moving stolen horses, and went their separate ways, blowing away in wind like tumbleweeds across the desert. Texas Jack, and perhaps a few others, stayed behind, Jack in his dug out cave in Rattlesnake Canyon, with the one he referred to simply as Woman.
The Langes and Osborne Brothers were the first ranchers in the area between Steamboat Rock and the Columbia River. Each set up huge cattle ranches and free ranged their herds in the coulee. Sometimes, a cow would go missing but it never really drew suspicion. Sometimes Texas Jack and Woman would show up at the ranchers farms, looking desperate, asking for something. The pair looked like trouble and soon word got around about Texas Jack and his ‘wife’ being the type to watch. More cows disappeared and soon farming implements and goods from the shacks. Everyone suspected the man with the Texan accent and the half breed wife. But when Texas Jack was seen trying to sell Oscar Osborne’s prized riding horse, it was time for pioneer justice. First the locals gathered at Oscar’s house and discussed what they were going to do, in the end they decided to hang Texas Jack, so they split up and went out in search of the outlaw. As luck would have it, it was Oscar that snuck up on him, with his gunned pulled, and caught the polecat. Back to the Osborne Ranch they went, where Texas Jack was secured while everyone was recalled. Even before Oscar’s brother Charley could return the gathered men decided that they couldn’t hang Texas Jack, as none of them had ever killed a man before, so they turned him loose but warned him to leave the county and never return.
Texas Jack returned to his dug out cave and ordered Woman to gather up everything and prepare to leave. It was a cold day and after getting dressed and grabbing what she felt she needed, she slipped a pair of socks over her hands and together they climbed on the nappy old mare Woman usually rode and started out. They next rode to the Langes in Barker Canyon, where they asked Matilda for milk. She was started to see them, and fulfilled their odd request nervously. Her daughter Dayma watched quietly and her husband Hans was still away at the Osborne Ranch. After receiving the milk the two rode out, and were never seen in the area again.
Rattlesnake Canyon in the early 1930s