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Keith Guthrie

MEANS-GARNER FEUD. A former sheriff and a sheriff in office were shot and killed in San Patricio County in the early 1870s in a bitter controversy that disrupted the entire Meansville community and may have caused its abandonment. William Means was the son of Rachal Means, who came to Texas from Georgia with three children in 1832 and received a headright to 4,605 acres in 1838 on land that is now part of the Lyndon B. Johnson ranch. Means served in the Texas army and was later a representative from Sabine County and served as the county's first sheriff before moving his family to San Patricio. His son W. B. was sheriff in San Patricio when Josepha Chipita Rodríguezqv was tried for murdering John Savage.

Means was a law-abiding citizen, respected in the community; however, his three younger sons, John, Hugh, and Alley, were in constant trouble with the law. Ed Garner was elected sheriff in 1874. The trouble between Garner and Means is supposed to have started as an outgrowth of an effort to stem the epidemic of Mexican cattle ticks (see TEXAS FEVER). The loss in cattle was tremendous, and to combat the ticks cattlemen built dipping vats to treat the animals. All ranchers in the San Patricio area participated except for the Means family. Finally ranchmen petitioned the sheriff to get a group of cowboys to round up and dip all of the Means cattle. This was done, and Means was billed for an amount said to be "less than thirty-five dollars," which he refused to pay.

On January 30, 1876, Means's three sons rode to Papalote, where they made the rounds of the saloons, rode up on the porch of one of the general merchandise stores, and began shooting up the store, hitting such targets as a barrel of lard and a barrel of blackstrap molasses. The young men then retreated to their father's home in Meansville. Since Papalote was in Bee County, Sheriff W. K. Clark was summoned. He answered the call and sent word to Sheriff Ed Garner to meet him at Means's home. It was evidently in the early morning hours when the posse arrived. Sheriff Clark called out to Means to send the three sons out. After some time Means appeared on the porch wearing a long white nightshirt and carrying a rifle. Words were exchanged. No one seems to know who fired the first shot, but members of the posse reported that "all Hell broke loose." Means went down. His daughter, Sarah, requested permission to go to her father and, seeing that he was dead, ran back in the house screaming "Pa is dead!" After the posse threatened to burn the house, the three fugitives filed out to be arrested. As Alley Means passed Sheriff Garner he said: "You killed my father-this isn't the end of it."

On Sunday, August 26, 1876, the Garner family joined others in the community for evening worship at the Meansville church. Ed Garner saw Alley Means through the window and got up to go to the rear, leaning over to whisper to Marion Garner: "Alley Means is out there, and I believe he is going to shoot me right here in church." These were the last words the sheriff spoke. As he neared the door, a shot rang out from outside the double front door. Garner was hit. He turned and started back as another shot was fired, hitting one of the pews and ricocheting upward. Garner fell across one of the benches and died without saying a word, in full view of his wife, his children, and the entire congregation.

Alley Means was arrested for the murder and tried in Nueces County after the case was moved from San Patricio County. The criminal courts of appeals in Galveston upheld the guilty sentence. Means family documents state that John Means, rather than Alley, fired the shot that killed Ed Garner, and that Alley was used as a ploy to get Garner's attention to allow for a clear shot by John. In the report of Alley Means v. the State, Means descendants claim that William Means's body was riddled with double-O buckshot, even in the soles of his feet and that Garner had murdered Colonel Means over a personal dispute. Both sheriffs W. K. Clark and Ed Garner turned themselves in after booking the Means boys. Both were later no-billed by the grand jury.

After Garner's murder tensions ran high in the community. The Means family eventually left the region. Deed records indicate that members of the Means family sold all of their possessions in San Patricio County and were gone by the early 1880s.

Governor John Ireland granted Alley a full pardon on May 9, 1885, after he had served four years and two months of a life sentence. Means descendants have contended that $500 was paid for the pardon. Alley and his wife raised a family in Real County, apparently without anyone knowing about his past record. Sometime after the shooting of Garner, John Means left for Wyoming, reportedly to find and kill a man who had shot his son. Though he never found the man, he ended up settling in Wyoming and died there. Other members of the Means family settled in Real County.

Keith Guthrie, History of San Patricio County (Austin: Nortex, 1986).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Keith Guthrie, "MEANS-GARNER FEUD," accessed April 09, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jcm03.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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