Home News Vision Historically Speaking: Roswell’s one-armed sheriff — a former convict

Historically Speaking: Roswell’s one-armed sheriff — a former convict

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Early Day Downtown Roswell — Dunnahoo collection." — Date unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Working at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives a few years ago, Dr. Elvis Fleming came in and said he had a story he needed help with for an oral presentation. He had written the story down before, but wanted to add to it, including more research material from the archives.

Finding the facts he was looking for, we re-wrote his intriguing story. Following you find the newspaper articles and the story chapters.

“Roswell Daily Record

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“Feb. 3, 1904

“J.J. Rascoe is appointed Marshal to succeed Pilant


“At the meeting of the City Council last night the membership question which had been so long before the council was finally decided, and as a result today J. J. Rascoe succeeds W. R. Pilant in that office.

“The vote on the confirmation was four ayes and one no. Tannehill, Parsons, Denning, and Ogle voted aye, and Whiteman voted no.

The new appointee assumed the duties of his office this morning, taking the oath of office and filing his bond at $1,500 with C.P. Shearman, Ed S. Seay, and E.T. Ammonett as sureties.”

Following is the story:

“One of the most unusual peace officers in the history of the Pecos Valley was Jessie J. Rascoe. The one-armed outlaw turned lawman served as Roswell City Marshal from 1904 until 1908.

“He became a competent officer and a respected pioneer of the valley. Rascoe brought his family to the lower Pecos Valley about 1883 or 1884 from Arizona Territory. Just where they lived is not known — perhaps at Seven Rivers until Eddy (Carlsbad) was started in 1888. He worked as a stagecoach driver.

“Rascoe ran for constable in Eddy’s first election in 1890. He received 66 votes to 40 for W.L. Goodlet; Goodlet then became a deputy sheriff for the new Eddy County. Rascoe served as constable for several years and helped the famous Eddy County Sheriff Les Dow during the ‘wild and wool(l)y’ days at Seven Rivers.

“The City Council hired him as Marshal in 1904, and he served until 1908. Even though his right arm had been amputated, Rascoe gained a reputation as an excellent peace officer.

“Rascoe was born in July 1848, in Rusk, Texas, the son of Laban and Francis Rascoe. The family moved near Corsicana in 1859.

“Jesse Rascoe married Mary Jane ‘Mollie’ Duncan on September 2, 1866. They were married near Corsicana, and Belle was born to them in 1873. Having a wife and child didn’t seem to stop the delinquent behavior of Jesse.

“Texas was occupied by Yankee troops during reconstruction. He had several confrontations with the soldiers. On one occasion, a soldier shoved Mrs. Rascoe off of a sidewalk and broke her ankle, and Jesse retaliated.

In August 1874 he killed one man and stabbed another one during a fight in Corsicana. This incident added considerably to Rascoe’s growing reputation as an outlaw in Navarro County. He took his wife and daughter and moved to West Texas, where J.J. Jr. was born that same year. The next year Charles was born in De Soto Parish, La., in 1876.

“Rascoe’s brother Bill was a Texas Ranger who tried to help his errant sibling. Once he stopped other Rangers from going after Jesse. Another time Bill reportedly sewed a hacksaw blade into a pair of boots which were delivered to Jesse in jail and aided him in one of his many jailbreaks.

“Back in Corsicana in 1877, Rascoe was busted in a fight by Harry Lackey, who took away his pistol and had him arrested. All of the witnesses were afraid to testify against Rascoe, so he was released. He vowed to have Lackey’s life.

“One Saturday night in December, Rascoe went into Smith’s Saloon where Lackey was standing at the bar. Rascoe shot him down. Rascoe‘s cousin, Bill Jackson, was also there and tried to aid Rascoe in his escape. A deputy sheriff and a city policeman saw the shooting, and they ran out and shot at Rascoe several times. He escaped unharmed but embarked upon the life of a fugitive for over four years, with a reward of $500 on his head.

“By 1882, Rascoe was living at a ranch on the San Simon River in Arizona Territory under the alias ‘Peavey House.’

“According to Rick Miller in his 1988 book, ‘Bounty Hunter,’ Rascoe was waiting around Charleston, (on) March 5, to collect pay that was due him.

“He came out of the saloon and was mounting his horse, when — for unknown reasons — the bartender came out and fired a shotgun at Rascoe, striking his right side. Rascoe barely survived the blast, and doctors had to take off his right arm at the elbow. He spent time in a Tombstone hospital; but he suspected that the Texas Rangers were getting close, so he left the hospital and returned to the ranch.

“Jack Duncan was a Texas Ranger who was famous for always bringing in his man. He later achieved fame and a four thousand dollar reward for bringing in John Wesley Hardin, Texas’ most notorious outlaw. Duncan left Dallas for Tombstone in February 1882, in search of one of the Sam Bass’ gang, and he took along a warrant for Rascoe for good measure.

“In Tombstone, Duncan heard about Rascoe’s shooting so he hired an outfit to take him to the ranch where Rascoe lived. Early on the morning of April 3, 1882, Duncan arrived at the ranch and took Rascoe into custody. Different storytellers have given different versions of how Duncan did it. Anyway, he took Rascoe on a Southern Pacific passenger train and headed for Dallas. Deputies from Navarro County met the train and took Rascoe to Corsicana for trial. Duncan collected his reward.

“Rascoe’s trial for the murder of Harry Lackey was held in August 1882. He was acquitted. That ended his life as an outlaw.

“After his trial, Rascoe took his family to Arizona territory. Twins Catherine and William were born there in January 1883. From there, they moved to the Pecos Valley, where Minnie May was born in 1884. Tragically, she got lost in the desert and died of dehydration when she was three years old. The Rascoes had two other children, Lydia, born in 1886, and, George, born in 1889, in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

“More than 20 years after he settled in the lower Pecos Valley, Rascoe became the marshal for the city of Roswell. According to Cecil Bonney in ‘Looking Over My Shoulder: 75 Years in the Pecos Valley,’ Rascoe always rode a fine sorrel horse when he policed the streets of Roswell. ‘He cut quite a figure as he made the rounds in Roswell. Mr. Rascoe was the most efficient officer.’

“The minutes of the Roswell City Council show that Rascoe’s salary was $55 a month, but he also received an allowance for horse feed. In addition, he collected police fines and license fees. His commission on that sometimes was more than his salary.

“‘Around his waist, he wore a cartridge belt,’ Bonney writes, ‘always filled.

‘On his left hip, because his right arm was missing, he wore a regulation double-action Colt .45. In scabbards on either side of his saddle, he carried a sawed-off shotgun and a 30-30 Winchester saddle gun.’”

“Following are a few of the ordinances Rascoe posted and enforced during his tenure as sheriff:

‘Roswell Daily Record,

‘March 8, 1904


‘I have been instructed by the City Council to serve notice through the newspaper on residents within the city limits that Ordinance Number 197, in regards to the cleaning of closets, lots, and premises, will be strictly enforced. I will begin the inspection of the city at once, and all parties will be given reasonable time to clean the premises, but a failure to do so will subject you to the penalties of such ordinance.


‘City Marshal’

‘Roswell Daily Record

‘Dec. 17, 1906

‘Don’t Shoot Fire Crackers

‘City Marshal J.J. Rascoe gives notice that it is against the law to fire fire-crackers anywhere in the city at any time except with the mayor’s proclamation that gives the individual right. Up to this time, no proclamation has been issued permitting this practice even on Christmas, and the marshal intends to do his duty.’

‘Roswell Daily Record

‘August 27, 1907


‘A City Ordinance, known as the Curfew Law, prohibits the loitering or presence of children under the age of 19 years on the streets of Roswell unless accompanied by a parent. This law will be strictly enforced, and all persons are warned to take notice and comply with it.


‘City Marshal’

“James Champion became the new city marshal on June 2, 1908. The Rascoes left Roswell for California within a few years, arriving in Bakersfield on April 1, 1911. Most of their children either preceded or followed them there. Mrs. Rascoe died there on May 23, 1922. Jessie J. Roscoe died on January 25, 1925.

“J.J. Rascoe was one of the most interesting men in the history of law enforcement in the Pecos Valley. While his early life made him no role model, his later life showed that a former outlaw could become an honest and productive member of society if he makes up his mind to stay off the ‘Owl Hoot Trail.’”

Janice Dunnahoo of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives can be reached at 575-622-7004 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.

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