Texas Jack

Nathaniel “Texas Jack” reed was born March 23, 1862 in Madison County, Arkansas.

His father, Mason Henry Reed, was killed in action fighting for the Union Army during the American Civil War, probably at the Battle of Campbell’s Station on November 16, 1863.

In 1883, at the age of 21, Reed moved west working at various jobs in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas and then back to Oklahoma where he became a ranch hand.

During the summer of 1885, his ranch foreman for the Tarry outfit, recruited “Texas Jack” Reed to help rob a train at La Junta, Colorado. During this robbery, Reed entered the passenger car firing his pistol to keep the passengers under control. His cut for this hold up was $6,000.

Encourage by this success, Reed gave up the hard work as a cowboy to become an outlaw.

Over the next nine years Reed and his gang robbed trains, stagecoaches, banks, and on one occasion, captured a large shipment of gold bullion in California.

 Robbery at Blackstone Switch

During the early 1890s, while Reed was living near Muskogee, Oklahoma, he learned that a gold shipment was leaving Dallas, Texas on November 13, 1894. He recruited fellow outlaws Buz Luckey, William “Will” Smith and Tom Root, and selected Blackstone Switch at Wybark as the site for his robbery.

The plan was for Reed to throw the switch as the train approached then, as it entered onto a sidetrack, the gang would use dynamite to enter the express car.

Tom Root, a full-blooded Cherokee known for his size and strength, would enter the express car, break open the strong boxes, and bring out the gold.

Will Smith would hold a gun on the engineer and fireman while Buz Luckey stayed with the horses.

Despite practicing the previous day, as the Katy No. 2 locomotive approached, Reed threw the switch too early.

Engineer Joseph Hotchkiss stopped the train when he saw the signal light change, far short of the siding.

Reed and the others were forced to run towards the train yelling and shooting.

Hotchkiss and his fireman alerted the messengers using the bell cord connected to the car and jumped off the train to hide in a small ravine nearby.

The railroad company had anticipated the possibility of a robbery, and had moved the gold to another train, putting in its place several armed messengers to guard the express car including Bud Ledbetter, Paden Tolbert, Sid Johnson, Frank Jones.

When the outlaws approached the express car, Reed called for the messengers to leave the car.

When they refused, Reed and Tom Root took cover behind some trees and began shooting into the car.

The messengers returned fire, resulting in a gunfight that lasted for nearly an hour.

Eventually one of Reed’s men was killed; Reed jumped onto the train and went through the passenger cars forcing passengers to put their valuables into a sack before he and his gang fled.

As they rode away, Reed was shot by Bud Ledbetter; the pain from his wound grew so severe that his partners were forced to leave him behind for the night.

Reed gave them some of his loot, and kept the rest of it in a sack to use as a pillow. There he slept on a blanket hiding under a rock ledge until he was found by an Indian woman, who nursed him back to health.

The American Express Company soon offered a reward of $250 for the arrest and conviction of each member of the gang.

An extensive manhunt was conducted by U.S. Marshals George Crump and S. Morton Rutherford, and large groups of deputies were sent into the Indian Territory and Creek Nation.

While burning the canebrakes in the Verdigris bottoms, one deputy found the burnt remains of Reed’s saddle and threatened to destroy the crops of local residents if they did not turn over Reed and his men.

This was considered a legal act, authorized by “The Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker himself, but no one came forward with information.

Reed was warned of the search and decided to leave the territory as soon as he was able.

He arrived in Seneca, Missouri on December 9, where a friend named Bill Lawrence took care of him.

Once fully recovered from his wounds Reed returned to Arkansas in February 1895, where he stayed with his brother in Madison County.

Having decided to retire from the life of crime, Reed wrote to Judge Isaac Parker, agreeing to provide the location of the other outlaws and testify against the men who “planned” the robbery in exchange for probation.

Will Smith managed to disappear, but U.S. Marshal Newton LaForce was successful in tracking down Buz Luckey and Tom Root at his home in Broken Arrow, 15 miles south of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The two fugitives were subsequently killed in a gunfight with LaForce and his men on December 4, 1894.

Later years

Despite Judge Parker’s promise of immunity, Nathaniel Reed was convicted and sentenced to serve five years in prison.

However, Reed would serve less than one year, as shortly before his own death Judge Parker granted Reed parole, in November of 1896.

Reed subsequently carried his signed parole from Judge Parker around with him, along with a letter signed by Bud Ledbetter acknowledging that Ledbetter had shot him.

After his parole, Reed became an evangelist, preaching the rewards of living a respectable, law-abiding life.

Reed also toured the country with a series of Wild West shows as “Texas Jack, the famous bandit and train robber.”

Texas Jack claimed to have been the last survivor of the “47 most notorious outlaws” of Indian Territory.

Reed became an evangelist in his later years, and could often be seen on the streets of Tulsa preaching against the dangers of following a “life of crime”.


He wrote his own memoirs, “The Life of Texas Jack, Eight Years a Criminal – 41 Years Trusting in God.”

A photograph of Reed which appeared on the title page of his 1936 autobiography The Life of Texas Jack.

His memoirs were published in 1930 & became a collector item. In 2007 one copy sold for $1,500.

He died January 7, 1950 at his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of 87.




Courtesy Carl Leonard


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