Bio of Uncle Jack

Author’s note:  Uncle Jack came alive for me when I was a young girl first delving in my family‘s history.  I have dreamed of finding out more about him, and but never thought it would be possible.  Thanks to Kathy Hamaker and Joel Frandsen, both of Price, Utah, who helped inspire me to keep searching; R. K. DeArment, who provided much more information than I was ever able to obtain; and of course the late C. A. “Doc” Shores, who believed and trusted in Uncle Jack. 

John A. “Jack” Watson-Soldier, Blacksmith, Texas Ranger, Outlaw, Lawman, Private Investigator, and friend to Cyrus “Doc” Shores…a man to cross river’s with.

The spirit of adventure and the desire to move to new frontiers inspired many generations of the Watson family.  In the early 1700’s a man named William Wattson traveled from County Tyrone, Ireland and made a home for his family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  William’s son Samuel left home and family in Pennsylvania to move to the New Acquisition, which would become known as South Carolina.  Samuel was immersed in politics and government soon after his arrival in South Carolina, and served the new country as a colonel during the Revolutionary War.  John Watson, son of Samuel, dared to leave South Carolina in his early forties, hoping to find a better life for his large family in Tennessee.  John settled in Hardin County, Tennessee in the early 1800’s and became a devout Methodist minister.  At least three out of eight of John’s children sought lives elsewhere.  James Lemuel Watson inherited his father’s land and raised a family of twelve children. 

John A. Watson, the first son of James Lemuel and Margaret Russell Watson, was born on November 05, 1843 on the family homestead in Hardin County, Tennessee.  He was named for his grandfather John, the Methodist minister, continuing the family’s tradition of naming the first son after his paternal grandfather.  John, like all Watson children, was given a nickname, and his was to become Jack. 

Jack must have inherited the family’s desire to move on.  By the time he was old enough to join the Confederate Army, he was in Carthage, Texas, many miles from his home in Hardin County.   He enlisted on May 20, 1863 in Alexander Watkins Terrell’s Thirty-fourth Texas Cavalry Regiment at the age of twenty years old.  By 1864, he had been promoted to Corporal, and his body bore several scars of the war, including a wound in his instep, which caused him to walk with a severe limp. 

Jack became a blacksmith and practiced the trade after the war but the urge for more adventure prompted him to move on to a more daring life. On May 25, 1874, Jack enlisted at Camp Jones, Texas in Texas Ranger Company “A” Frontier Men under J. R. Waller.  His enlistment record indicated he was 5’ 10 in height, had gray eyes, dark hair, and a dark complexion. His occupation was listed as blacksmith. 

Company “A” was the first unit of the Frontier Men of the Texas Rangers called to duty to have its entire company in action.  The company was also the very first Texas Ranger Company to go after white desperados instead of the usual enemy to settlers, the Indians. While stationed in Comanche County, the company found itself in the middle of the Sutton-Taylor trouble and rivalry with John Wesley Hardin.  During the confrontation, Company “A” killed two outlaws who were thought to be a part of the Hardin gang; the leader, John Wesley Hardin, escaped.  Records indicate Jack resigned from his Texas Ranger unit on April 30, 1875.  

Things started going bad for Jack after his tour of duty with the Rangers.  By 1876, Jack was wanted for assault with intent to murder a man named Ab Griffin, in Cooke County, Texas.  Jack now had his previous friends in the Texas Ranger’s hot on his trail.  He wandered from one wild Texas town to another and worked any odd job he could find to make a little money.  In 1880, for a short time, he worked on Charley Goodnight’s famous J.A. Ranch in Armstrong County, Texas.

Jack worked for various ranchers, chasing down rustlers and bringing back horses and cattle stolen from them.  Once when Jack was trailing a horse thief he found himself without food for several days.  When he located the horse thief it just happened the fellow was finishing cooking breakfast.  Jack ambushed the man, who died in the attack, and Jack sat down to eat the rustler’s food.   

While trailing a Texas cattleman/rustler named J. C. “Cul” Juvenall, Jack became acquainted with Cyrus “Doc” Shores, who was working in the Hayes City, Kansas area on the Saline River.  The man Juvenall had allowed fourteen head of branded horses to mix with his remuda while driving a herd of cattle through the Texas Panhandle.  When the owners realized their horses were missing, they hired Jack to retrieve the stolen animals.  Jack thought the man was in the area, and it happened that Doc knew where Juvenall might be located.  Jack left to find the horses and returned with them a few days later, stopping for a visit with his new friend.  Jack Watson made an impression on Doc that he would not soon forget.  Doc was even more impressed when he later saw the rustler alive, and he knew Jack Watson had not taken drastic steps to retrieve the fourteen horses. 

February 1883 found Jack in Deming, New Mexico.  While there he went on a drunken binge, participated in a saloon brawl, and suffered yet another gunshot wound.  The El Paso Lone Star reported, “a woman was at the bottom of the trouble.”   

Jack was in Montrose, Colorado on February 8, 1884.  Again, Jack’s drinking caused him to get into trouble and he was arrested for public drunkenness.  At the time of the arrest, Jack had a total of eight-five dollars with him.  The day after the arrest, a sober Jack was brought before the police magistrate and was fined exactly eight-five dollars.  In 1884, that was considered an exorbitant fine.  Upon release he was given back his belongings including his horse, saddle, and a six-shooter.  He promptly went in search of the magistrate, found him on Main Street accompanied by a peace officer.  Jack shot the peace officer in the arm, and then shot the magistrate through the side, narrowly missing his stomach.  As he was leaving town, he reportedly angrily yelled, “Don’t think I’m tryin’ to kill yuh, I’m just tryin’ to get my money’s worth out of that fine you charged me.”  He rode out of town, reloaded his gun, and came barreling through town, firing his gun and yelling. 

The district judge, in Montrose at the time, became infuriated at Jack’s actions. He ordered the frightened residents of Montrose to arrest the “berserk” cowboy.  However, no one would confront Jack Watson.  The city council of Montrose offered a six hundred dollar reward for his capture, but could find no volunteers to tangle with the irate Watson.  Most townspeople thought that, although he had created quite a commotion, no one was seriously hurt, and it did seem there was some justification for his actions. 

Jack headed for the hills outside of Montrose where he hid out in a tent on Surface Creek Mesa and nursed a flesh wound he had received.  A known horse thief named Howard, who would turn in his own mother for a dollar, discovered Jack.  The horse thief and an accomplice invited Jack for an evening meal at Howard’s home.  Before the evening was over they had pounced on Jack and taken him “prisoner.”   Jack proved himself a gentleman when, as they were going out the door of the shack, he turned to Howard’s wife and said, “Many thanks for the fine dinner.  Your hospitality is overwhelming.” 

The ride to Montrose, however, was not an easy trip.  As they crossed a stream, Jack tried to overpower his enemies and almost drowned both men.  They were able to gain control of Watson again, and continued on their way to Montrose.  The men promptly received their reward of six hundred dollars and promptly returned to the Mesa while Jack remained in the Montrose jail for a few months.   

On May 27, 1888, Jack wrote to family members that he was working at Black Queen Mine owned by George Hyder, about fifty miles from Gunnison, Colorado.  The drunken stupors of the past took over  again and he got into a fight with another miner.  The miner knocked Jack to the floor and Jack promptly pulled out a knife and slashed in the direction of his opponent’s stomach.  The knife found its target and Jack Watson was again in trouble with the law.   

The sheriff of Gunnison County was none other than Doc Shores.  Doc heard of the incident but did not know the names of the parties involved.  He promptly sent his deputy to Crystal to place the assailant under arrest.  Jack was brought before Doc who did not even recognize the beaten, haggard man limping into his office.  When Jack realized Doc had no idea who he was, he asked, “Don’t you remember me, Doc?  I’m Jack Watson.” 

It was then Doc finally recognized his old friend from the Saline River days.  Jack, showing a remarkable sense of humor in the serious situation told Doc, “I can certainly understand that, when I looked in the mirror this morning I didn’t recognize myself either.” 

Doc and Jack spent some time visiting about Jack’s past again, and it was then he made a decision to help Jack out.  Doc admired Jack and knew that there was good in him, so he asked Jack how he would like the as his deputy.  Amazed that Doc would even consider him for the job,  Jack told him he would love to get back into law enforcement; that he felt that was where he belonged.  But Jack added, “Before I give you a definite answer, let’s wait and see how I come out at my trial.” 

Jack was brought before the grand jury and was cleared of all charges.  It was ruled that both parties involved in the fight were at fault and no real harm had been done.  Jack Watson became deputy sheriff of Gunnison County.  Townspeople questioned Doc’s sanity, but, after seeing the tremendous change in Jack’s character, thought it was a good decision.  For quite some time, Jack worked entirely on the side of the law.

 Doc received a telegram one day while Jack was Doc’s deputy that read “four men killed away up on the head of the Muddy.  Please come at once and bring several of you best men.”  It took Doc but a few seconds to tell his deputy, “Saddle up, Jack, you are several of my best men.”  In a short time Doc and Jack had rounded up four men implicated in the shooting, placing two under arrest at Ouray, one at Aspen, and another at Crested Butte.  

Doc Shores left his position as sheriff of Gunnison in 1892.  In 1896, Preston Nutter, a well-known rancher, came to Shores and solicited his help in running down rustlers who were stealing his cattle in the Price, Utah area.  Doc recommended he hire Jack Watson as a detective to go to Price and roust out the thieves.  Nutter hired Jack and asked Shores to make all the arrangements so he could keep a low profile.  Watson made camp in an old dugout on Nine-Mile Creek in the Uintah Reservation.

 Watson, as described by Doc, was “a well-built, muscular man with black hair and pale blue eyes.  In spite of a thick, bristling growth of whiskers, which covered his face, he was good looking in a rough sort of way.  He looked like a man who could take care of himself in an emergency.”  Watson could easily pass for an outlaw himself.  He used his appearance to his advantage and quickly made acquaintance with many of the outlaws.  He began working as a blacksmith allowing him to mingle in and out of various camps where was able to pick up numerous bits of information on the thieves.  The information was sent back to Doc periodically. 

It was not long before the cattle thieves began to leave the county. “They did not like the looks of him and the way he talked…..They saw that he had been wounded a few times, and figured he didn’t mind being shot a few times more…” 

Preston Nutter was very pleased with Jack’s work and asked Doc to set up a meeting he could thank him properly.  Doc notified Jack of the meeting, but Jack failed to show.  When Doc inquired around Price as to Jack’s whereabouts, he was told that Jack had been on a drunken binge a few days earlier and had ridden out of town.  A second meeting was set up with the end results being the same. By then Doc was getting more than a little upset with his good friend.  He located a very drunk Jack and made him sober up to meet Nutter. 

It was at that meeting that Nutter asked Jack to stay in the area to discourage the return of the thieves.  Doc was worried that Jack would be hitting the bottle too much, and it turned out, his worries were warranted. Jack remained in Price and served as a Carbon County deputy sheriff occasionally.  He served as a member of the posse, under the leadership of Sheriff Charles W. Allred, that brought down the outlaw Joe Walker and Butch Cassidy look-a-like, John Herring, on May 13, 1898.   The hunt for the outlaws took thirteen days.  By the time the $500.00 reward was split nineteen ways, each posse member was to receive  $26.30.  The money took a long time in coming so the county attorney, J. W. Warf, wrote the governor of Utah on June 8, asking why there was a delay in issuing the reward money.  He stated in his letter that one man, J. A. Watson, wants to start for home and is waiting on his part of the money.  Another letter later that same day relates to the governor that Watson had sold his interest in the reward. 

In a letter dated May 28, 1898 to his brother, Vesta, living in Tennessee. Watson talks about the deaths of his mother and father, and tells the brother that he has been in the detective business eight years and has killed about six men.  His letter tells of his plans to quit the (detective) business for a while, and asks for his inheritance to be sent express so he can come home for a visit.  No mention was made of his near-death episode, nor of the problems he was having at the time. 

On June 9, 1898 Jack accompanied a friend, newspaperman Clarence Marsh, to the water canal to turn on water with which Marsh was going to use to irrigate.  A man named Youngbert, holding a shotgun, confronted the men. Youngberg informed Marsh if he attempted to raise the head gate, or to interfere with the water flow in the ditch in any way, he would be shot and killed.  Despite threats, and because Marsh believed that he had a right to do what he was doing, he raised the gate and turned on the water.  Mrs. Marsh appeared on the scene with her baby and pleaded with Marsh to accompany her back to their home.  Marsh left the scene with his wife, but Watson remained. 

          As Watson was sitting on the embankment,  County Attorney J. W. Warf and Alpha Ballinger came upon the scene, armed with rifles.  Ballinger covered Watson with his gun while Warf approached from behind.  Warf pulled his six-shooter and without any warning beat Watson severely about the head.   This account appeared in a local newspaper:

 “John Watson Terribly Beaten by County Attorney Warf????Aided and Abetted by Alpha Ballinger”

 On last Thursday, the 9th June, John Watson, 59 years of age, was the victim of a cowardly and brutal attack.The facts are as follows:  About half past six in the evening, Clarence Marsh and John Watson, his employee, went up to the water canal to turn on the water with which to irrigate.  Marsh was confronted with a shotgun in the hands of a cowardly fellow by the name of Youngberg, who pointed and held the gun on Marsh for the space of three to five minutes, and threatened to shoot, and shoot to kill, if he attempted to raise the head gate or in any way interfere with the water in the ditch.  Despite the threats of Youngberg, however, Marsh did raise the head gate and turned on the water, believing then, as he believes now, that he had a perfect right to the use of a portion that courses through the Price water ditch.


At this point Mrs. Marsh, fearing trouble, appeared upon the scene with a babe in her arms and succeeded in persuading her husband to accompany her home.


At this time Watson was sitting on the embankment, Warf and Ballinger came up armed with rifles.  Ballinger immediately covered Watson with his gun while Warf approached from behind, pulled his six-shooter and without warning dealt Watson a vicious blow on the side of the head.  This was followed by others, until the poor man fell insensible from the beating.


Next day when Watson pulled himself together sufficiently to count the cost, he found himself carrying around a badly split ear, the right side of the upper part of the bodipital (sp) bone was laid bare, while a glance at his forehead would suggest that he must be a member of the Red Cross Society.  He was badly injured about the ribs and body, and for several days his stomach, as an assimilator and digester of food was a complete failure, the result of a well placed vicious kick by one of the assailants.  Dr. Richman was called and dressed his wounds, and in doing so found it necessary to put several stitches in his head and ear.  Jack is slowly convalescing.


The parties have been arrested and will have their examination next Saturday before Justice Fitch of Helper, on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

           Charges were filed against Warf and Ballinger and they were brought to trial a couple of weeks later.  The following is an account appeared in the Eastern Utah Advocate on June 30, 1898.


“J. W. Warf and Alpha Ballinger Are Pronounced By J. Tom Fitch Guiltless of Assault”

On the evening of June 9, John Watson was clubbed and beaten into insensibility on the banks of the Price Water ditch by J. W. Warf, aided and abetted by Ballinger.

The evidence of five witnesses disclosed this state of facts:

Watson was sitting on the bank of the ditch when Warf and Ballinger approached the object of their wrath, a man 59 years old.  Ballinger covered him with his rifle, while Warf approached from behind and dealt him a murderous blow on the back of the head with his revolver, which laid the skull bare for two or three inches.  This was followed up by two or three other blows with his revolver and several more with a large seasoned cottonwood stick.  By this time the old man was in a dazed, semi-conscious state and bleeding profusely.  When the old man was first struck he fell on his side, and Ballinger, so the witness stated, lifted his coat tail and took his pistol out of the scabbard.


The above is, in brief, the facts of the case as brought out by the state.  True, but, in our judgment, utterly failed to break down the testimony of five eyewitnesses of the affair.  The justice, in finding that not even an assault had been committed, took all the serious character out of the case, and we could not help but apply to J. Tom Fitch what Shakespeare says:


“Man, vain Man,

Dressed in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven

As make the angels weep.”

     The article explains the situation in the opinion of the writer.  Warf and Ballinger received not even a reprimand for their actions.  This was possible the beginning of more confrontations between Warf and Watson.

Watson, along with eleven other posse men received $20.80 when the commissioners of Carbon County voted on July 5, 1898 to pay a reward of $ 250.00 to certain possemen who killed Joe Walker.   Although Watson had spread the word throughout Price that he going to leave the area, he remained, continuing to frequent the saloons of the city.  He made several enemies, and his life was in so much danger that his friend, Doc Shores, decided to try one more time to get Watson out of Price.  He made a special trip to meet with Watson, pleading that he leave town before he got himself killed.  During his conversation with Watson, Doc had to reprimand Watson to keep him from starting a fight.  In the end Shores gave up on Watson and returned to his home in Salt Lake City.

          It was not long after the meeting of Doc and Jack Watson that Doc would learn of his friend’s demise. The following are articles appearing in newspapers in the area:


Bloody Page Added to the History of Price


Controversy Between Clarence Marsh, Jack Watson, J. Wesley Warf and the Price Water Company Culminates in a Tragedy-J. Wesley Warf is in Jail, Charged with Firing the Shots which Resulted in the Death of Watson-Shooting Occurred in Afternoon.

(Tribune Special)

     Price, Utah, July 23.-Once more Price has added a bloody page to its history and, as predicted by your correspondent, the controversy between Clarence Marsh, Jack Watson, J. Wesley Warf and the Price Water Company was not ended when Marsh and Watson were fined at Helper and later at Spring Glen.

     Tonight Jack Watson lies dead, and the cause of his death, two bullet holes in his body.  J. Wesley Warf is in jail, charged with the crime of fining the shots which caused Watson’s death.

     The facts, as near as can be learned, are these.  This morning at about 10 o’clock Watson followed Warf into the drug store, and evidently was bent on mischief.  Warf walked out and into his office, next door, leaving Watson there.  At that time Watson applied vile epithets to Warf, and appeared to be enraged because Warf would not talk to him.

     This afternoon at 5:45 o’clock Warf and others entered the Senate saloon, and saw Watson there.  Warf started away, and Watson said, “That’s right, sneak off like the dirty, cowardly ---- that you are.” Warf tried to quiet him, but he said:  “Go to feeling for it,” and at the same time drew his revolver as did Warf.  Shots were exchanged, one of which took effect in Watson’s groin, smashing the hip bone.  The other shot was fired after Watson was down on his knees, crawling away.  This shot took effect in the rectum, lodged just below the rib in front on the left side.

     As Watson went into the saloon, he turned and fired at Warf, who was across the street in front of the store of the price Trading company.  Warf went on into the store, where he says he got a rifle.  He was arrested, and put in jail, while Watson was carried into the back room of the saloon, where he died between 9 and 10 o’clock tonight.


Warf is having a hearing before Justice Olsen at this hour.  Watson has a brother, Dr. S. M. Watson at Pleasant Hill, DeSoto County, Tennessee, two brothers at Clifton, Tennessee and relatives at Boulder, Colorado.  He was a single man.

Eastern Utah Advocate                                               

Price, Carbon County, Utah, August 4, 1898

“Jack Watson Killed.”

About 5 o’clock on Saturday evening, July 23, a shooting occurred in the street between the Price Trading Company’s store and the Senate saloon, in which John Watson lost his life.  It appears that for some time past bitter feelings have existed between County Attorney J. W. Warf and Mr. Watson, and, the parties meeting on a Saturday night, some words passed between them, when both pulled a six shooter and a number of shots were fired.  Little can be determined as to the immediate origin of the difficulty, as witnesses were scarce at the time the fracas began, but it has been known for a long time that differences existed which would ultimately be settled with guns, and the tragedy was not a great surprise to those acquainted with the parties.  Some six or seven weeks ago Watson was beaten over the head with a gun and club in the hands of Mr. Warf, and after the latter was acquitted of the offence by the Helper magistrate, Watson is said to have expressed a determination to secure private satisfaction.  A number of shots were fired by each of the men, but Mr. Watson was twice struck, one ball entering the right groin and crushing the hip, the other entering the lower part of the body and taking an upward course through the intestines and being found above the second rib on the left side.  The latter shot was fatal, and two hours later, after Dr. Richman had extracted the two bullets and everything possible fore the man’s comfort had been done, Watson expired.


A coroner’s inquest was held on Sunday, and the jury found that death had been produced by gunshot wounds inflicted by J. W. Warf.


Warf was later arrested charge with the homicide, and took a change of venue to Helper precinct, where on Wednesday he was tried before Justice J. T. Fitch, who dismissed the case, it appearing to him that sufficient justification existed for the act.


Attorney S. R. Thurman defended and D. D. Houis (sp) was appointed by the attorney general to prosecute.


Mr. Watson was 59 years of age, had been around Price one year, and among those acquainted with him was highly regarded.  His relatives in his former home in Tennessee were wired soon after the tragedy, and at their request, the body was buried in Price.

          Jack Watson lived a precarious life after leaving his family home and the breathtaking landscape of Tennessee.  He was a young Confederate soldier as he faced the enemy during the Civil War; as a Texas Ranger he fought Indians and outlaws who hindered the settlement of the new western territory; as an outlaw he faced his friends and lawmen in run-ins. He shot and killed men whom he believed to be in the wrong.  He fought hard and often, and he drank too much as he dealt with his life in the west.  His letters to family members back home told only the better things about his life, and indicate Jack had a conscience and even more, a respect for his family.  He was a good man and many times he placed his life on the line to help his friends.  Doc Shores knew all of Jack’s flaws and all of his good points, and he trusted Jack.  If it hadn’t been for Doc Shores, Jack Watson would have, doubtless, died a much younger man.  If it hadn’t been for Doc Shores we would know very little of Jack’s adventurous life.  


Personal File of Author

Johnson, Joseph K. “To:  The Commissioner of Pensions, Washington; subject W.O. 1578431-J. A. Watson.

Shores, Cyrus “Doc”.  Memoirs of a Lawman (original manuscript)  

1880 Census, Armstrong County, Texas, Family History Film 1255289, p. 288A.

Watson, John A.  “To Vesta Watson (Brother).”  29 May 1898.   

Wilkins, Frederick.  The Law Comes To Texas.  Austin: State House Press, 1999.

 R. K. DeArment, “Doc’s Deputy,” True West, September 1996), pp. 40-45.

O’Neal, Bill.  Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1942.    

Rockwell, Wilson.  Umcompahdre Country. 

Rockwell, Wilson.  Memoirs of a Lawman.  Denver: Sage Books, 1962. 

Author Unknown.  “John Watson Terribly Beaten by County Attorney Warf????
          Aided and  Abetted by Alpha Ballinger.”  Eastern Utah Advocate June 16, 1898. 

Author Unknown.  “IT WAS A FARCE  J. W. Warf and Alpha Ballinger Are Pronounced by J. Tom  Fitch Guiltless of Assault.”  Eastern Utah Advocate  June 30, 1898. 

Author Unknown.  “Jack Watson Killed.” Salt Lake Tribune July 23, 1898. 

Arthur Unknown. “Jack Watson Killed.” Eastern Utah Advocate August 4, 1898.




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