Byler Shootout Column

Ken Byler

It should be noted that another Collin County city joins the list of safest places to live in America. Wylie has joined Plano, Allen, Frisco and McKinney as a safe place to live.

What makes a city a “safe” place to live? It’s usually those cities that spend at least half their budget on public safety and parks and recreation that wind up being the safe places.

There was a time not so long ago when a policeman couldn’t be found anywhere in Collin County. In 1950, the population of the county was 40,000 and no town had a police force.

Cities such as McKinney and Plano had constables, but the county sheriff and appointed deputies did most of the crime fighting.   

It’s ironic that a county with four towns named the “safest” in America is steeped in outlaw history. From William Quantrill to Bonnie and Clyde, Collin County has been touched by the outlaw element.   

After Quantrill’s Raiders were declared common criminals, members of the outlaw band often hid in plain sight at the Lewis McMillen farm on Cottonwood Creek.

McMillen and his neighbor George Washington “Wash” Ford served as soldiers with the Confederacy. They were originally from the same area in the Ozarks as William Quantrill and the James and Younger brothers.

“Wash” Ford was once made the owner of a prize mare the Raiders had stolen in the Lawrence Kansas raid. It was given to him as payment for his hogs that were butchered and ate while the Raiders were hiding out at the McMillen farm.

The first train robbery in Texas took place at Allen.  Outlaw Sam Bass and his cohorts robbed a Houston and Texas Central train when it stopped to take on water at the Allen water tank.

About the time Sam Bass was pulling off the first train robbery in Texas, America’s most wanted train robbers, Frank and Jesse James were known to enjoy regular, extended visits with relatives in McKinney. And their cousins, the Youngers, were living in a big house on Swiss Avenue in Dallas.

When I was a youngster, nearly everyone in Collin County had a story about a knock on a farmer’s door on a dark stormy night. The story was always told as true. When the farmer opened the door, Clyde Barrow would be standing there in the rain.

The farmer would hitch up the team of mules or crank up the tractor to pull Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s car from a muddy hole in the road. It depended on who was telling the story, whether Clyde gave the farmer a $100 or not.

When Allen was a quiet, little place with 500 people calling it home, The Texas Rangers busted the biggest criminal enterprises in Collin County. Six men, all with prominent names in Allen, were arrested for rustling cattle.

Using trucks and trailers, this well-organized band of rustlers didn’t take just one cow out of somebody’s pasture; they took whole herds of cows.

It was hard for some Allen folks to call men that’d known all their lives cattle rustlers. The harsh image of the words “cattle rustling” was lessened when replaced with the phrase “thinnin’ the herd.” All were found guilty of “thinnin’ herds” and went to prison in Huntsville.

After serving their sentences, the rustlers came home and resumed their roles as valued citizens of Allen.  

After the death of Jesse James, the Dalton brothers, Frank, Bill, and Emmett replaced the James brothers as “most wanted” bank and train robbers. The Dalton gang, including Bill Doolin and, Bitter Creek Newcomb, is reputed to have robbed the Plano National Bank of $20,000 in 1893.

Rumored to be the work of Emmett Dalton, Plano National Bank was robbed again in February 1920. This time Plano’s downtown night watchman was shot and killed.

The last shootout in Collin County happened on the streets of Allen in the 1920s. It took place in the black community along Cottonwood Creek.

Two men, each believing they had the exclusive affection of the same lady happen to visit the double dipping beauty on the same day.

Challenges were hurled and pistols were drawn as the confrontation spilled out onto Coats Street. Bullets ricocheted off homes, chicken houses and outhouses as the gun fighters shot at one another.

The shootout ended with only pride wounded when the combatants ran out of ammunition.

It’s ironic that a place that had no policemen until the 1950s would one day have cities with a combined forced of over 1,000 sworn officers.

Where outlaws once walked openly is now the safest place in America.  

Ken Byler is a longtime Allen resident and Star Local Media contributor

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