In the early days almost every city had its heroes who were responsible for keeping the peace. Denison was no different. In its earliest days, Denison was a lawless town. After many murders, fights and rough and tough activities on Skiddy Street (now Chestnut Street) Indian raids became more prevalent between Denison and the Red River. Train robberies plagued the railroad and the city fathers began looking for the heroes who could keep law and order.
As the population reached 2,000, the situation became worse and the search for a lawman became the top priority.
A young man named Jesse Lee “Red” Hall, who if you have read this column through the years the name may be familiar, was a name tossed around as a solution to the problem.
Hall, who had just nailed a G.T.T. (Gone to Texas) on his door after the Civil War left his family burned out in North Carolina, appeared on the scene and in 1875 was made Deputy Sheriff of Denison to help keep law and order.
The growing town didn’t know just how fortunate it was to have Hall working to rid it of all the lawlessness. Articles in The Sunday Gazeeteer, The Denison Daily News, a story by Neil Haddock in the “Real West” Magazine in July 1981 as well as a book by Dora Neill Raymond, “Captain Lee Hall of Texas, published in 1941, tell of some of the feats that Hall accomplished.
Hall was described as a quiet, red-haired young man about 25 whose credentials included being a school teacher and “a true southern gentleman.” He taught school in Sherman, where he got to know the county sheriff and admired the work of lawmen there. Then he soon found himself in the job of town marshal, that led to his appointment as Denison’s first lawman.
To the north of Denison was Indian Territory that made the area prey for renegade Indians as well as men wanted by the U.S. Marshals, who weren’t supposed to cross territorial lines. Therefore those on the run found Oklahoma a good place to “settle.” To the south were outlaws dodging Texas Rangers and in the middle was Hall with his hands full. He went on to become a Texas Ranger after leaving the Denison post.
One event that Haddock wrote about in the “Real West” tells how Red Hall’s hair possible saved the city from Indians.
It seems that a rider rode into town at full speed from the east down what now is known as Paw Paw Hill, coming from the area where Ambrose or Carpenter’s Bluff now are located. He sounded the dreaded alarm that Indians were in the area.
Hall gathered up a group of brave Denison citizens ready to defend the town. They went back up Paw Paw Hill, across the prairie and finally spotted a group of Indian braves. The group stopped abruptly within a hundred yards of the Indians to plan their battle strategy.
The Indians seemed not to pay any attention and minded their own business. While the “posse” was trying to get up courage to do something about the situation, a strange thing happened.
Red Hall’s horse took off at full gallop toward the band of Indians. Since Hall was considered the leader of the group, the posse figured he must have a plan that didn’t include them.
Hall rode right through the band of Indians without even stopping. As the Indians sat there watching dumbfoundedly, Hall gipped the saddle horn and zigzagged a circle around them, then rode erratically with his coattail flying and his red hair blowing in the wind. After two or three circles, the Indians beat a hasty retreat back across Red River.
Hall’s followers immediately gave him hero status for his single-handed confrontation. After the happening had almost been forgotten, Hall confided to a close friend that he didn’t have the faintest idea “why that crazy horse picked that particular time for a runaway.”
Haddock said that most Indians at that time had never seen a man with red hair, so when the red haired Hall came charging at them, chowing no fear, they probably thought he was some divine spirit.
Once Hall had tamed the wild and wooly Denison he moved on to other things and became a Texas Ranger, where he reached the rank of captain during the many years he served. At one time he was an Indian Agent in Oklahoma and served with the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War.
Hall is known as a real western lawman. A great deal has not been written about him although he accomplished more toward western law enforcement than many so-called “fast gun artists” who have been portrayed in movies and western stories.
An article by the late Bob Young of California, a photojournalist who was the brother of the late Bud Young of Denison and Durant, in the quarterly of the National Association and Center for Outlaw and Lawman History, includes a story about a Texas Ranger that typified Red Hall even though it wasn’t certain it was he who was responding to an urgent wire for help from the mayor of a Texas town where a riot was taking place.
As the Ranger stepped down from the train on arriving, he found the mayor waiting for him with a troubled look on his face. “There’s only one of you?” exclaimed the mayor.
“You”ve got only one riot, haven’t you?” returned the Ranger.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.