By Dakota Livesay
This Week in the Old West
If a lawman in the Old West did his job well, as we shall see this week, he could be handsomely rewarded. And that reward could result in a whole new career.
Although John Barclay Armstrong was born in Tennessee, at the age of 21 he ended up in Austin, Texas.
In Austin he met a young lady, and got married. Looking for some steady income to support his wife, and the first of his seven children, Armstrong became a Texas Ranger. Working under Captain L. H. McNelly, Armstrong was so tenacious that he became known as “McNelly's Bulldog."
The Bulldog accompanied McNelly into Mexico and engaged in firefights with Mexican forces while bringing back outlaws. One evening in 1876 he and his men had three separate confrontations with outlaws. The result was five outlaws dead and one seriously wounded.
After accidentally shooting himself, Armstrong decided he wanted to get into another profession that didn't involve gunplay. But he needed a grubstake. So he decided to see what outlaw John Wesley Harden had to offer. And what he had to offer was a $4,000 reward on his head. The problem was that Armstrong was in Texas and Harden was in Florida. So Armstrong boarded a train for Florida, even though he had no legal authority there. He found Harden on August 23, 1877 and arrested him after some gunplay.
Battling authorities who were concerned about little things like warrants and jurisdiction, Armstrong had problems at almost every stop back to Texas. But he got his man to Texas and received the reward. Armstrong put the $4,000 to good use by purchasing a 50,000 acre ranch. And, as soon as he could, Armstrong got out of the law business, living another 35 years as a rancher.