Monday, June 30, 2014

One Hundred and forty year-old Texas Ranger murder solved by Texas hill country author

This review appeared in the June 27, 2014, issue of the Boerne Star.
When author Cynthia Leal Massey began researching a history book about Helotes, Texas, she came upon bits and pieces of a story about the murder of Sergeant John Green, a Texas Ranger in the Minute Men Troop V of Medina County, mustered into service in September 1872. Almost one year later, in the summer of 1873, Green was shot and killed by another Ranger in his troop, Cesario Menchaca.

As she continued in her research, Massey stumbled upon another group of stories about naturalist Gabriel Wilson Marnoch, a prominent and eccentric Scottish emigrant who discovered four new reptile and amphibian species native to the Helotes hills. The Marnoch homestead, built in 1859, is a designated Texas Historic Landmark. When Massey discovered that there were links between John Green and Marnoch, she was hooked and spent the next few years writing her new book Death of a Texas Ranger: A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier, (Lyons Press, ISBN 978-0-7627-9305-1; $16.95).

“I realized this was more than a story about a killing,” writes Massey in the Preface of her book. “It was the story of an era. Green’s killing exemplifies the chaotic frontier society in Texas after the Civil War, a time fraught with political turmoil, cultural clashes, and a tenuous hold on life.”

John Green (born Johann Gruen) was originally from Fredericksburg. He and his sister were orphaned as children and Green was taken in by former Gillespie County Sheriff Louis Martin who had since become a cattle breeder. Martin’s large ranch was situated on the north bank of the Llano River, forty-two miles northwest of Fredericksburg. Green thrived under his care and learned the livestock business. He took off on his own at age seventeen and became successful, eventually marrying Augusta “Gussie” Specht, daughter of the Fredericksburg postmaster. They settled on Green’s hundred-acre Helotes ranch and established a horse breeding business. The Marnoch family was one of their neighbors.

Gabriel Marnoch had an affinity for attracting trouble. In addition to tax problems, he was indicted for “the offence of taking up and using an estray horse without complying with the law for regulating estrays,” a serious charge during that era. Cesario Menchaca attempted to serve Marnoch with a warrant for his arrest, but Marnoch ripped the warrant into pieces. He did not show up in court to answer the charges.

These three men—Green, Marnoch, and Menchaca—are seamlessly woven together in a fascinating tale of murder, betrayal, and vengeance. Menchaca appeared to have no motive for murdering Green, and after shooting him he fled to Mexico as a fugitive from justice. Thirty years later John Green’s son tracked Menchaca down. Menchaca claimed that the murder had been an accident—others believed that he had been hired by Gabriel Marnoch to kill John Green. After years of research, Massey believes that she uncovered the real reason for the murder.

Death of a Texas Ranger: A True Story of Murder and Vengeance on the Texas Frontier, is a fascinating book. Hill Country readers will recognize many of the names of the characters: Heubner, Braun, Mueller, McAllister, and numerous others. Massey also includes a section of interesting photos including an 1860’s photograph of John Green and a 1927 photo of his son, Will, when he served as a San Antonio police captain. An early 1900s photograph of the Marnoch homestead shows the 1,515-acre ranch land that later became the town of Helotes.

Ultimately Massey wanted to learn the truth behind the story of the murder of John Green. She says that she “came away from the project with a deeper appreciation for our Texas pioneers and a profound respect for the storytellers who keep alive their families’ important histories.”

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