A grandfather passing along his reins

by Jim Fish

Ozona—Amid a neatly manicured backyard, stood an old, weathered gazebo with a wooden lawn swing. Heinrich Klaerner sat with his grandson among potted plants and clipped greenery. With a distant stare, the white haired and weathered old gentleman conducted his grandson through selected tales of his many years on the frontier as Texas Ranger and as a teamster at Fort Concho. 

Mr. Klearner spent his childhood in the community of Live Oak, where he was born on July 27, 1855. At best, white settlement and Native American relations strained with both wanting to possess lands on which the Comanche, Apache, Kiowa, and Kickapoo had lived, roamed, fought, and foraged for centuries.

Stories abounded among the white settlers about Comanche and Apache retaliation or other raiding parties that stole horses, abducted women and children, and killed and scalped whole families. Some of the tales were true and some were not. Regardless, the Klearner’s did well.

At age eighteen, Heinrich joined Captain Lacey’s Minute Rangers in Company F, which was headquartered at Spring Creek in Gillespie County. Ben Keese, Lacey’s son-in-law, was the assistant captain because Captain Lacey lacked the vigor of youth.

Minute Rangers had to be ready to ride in a moment’s notice. They protected settlers and travelers in Gillespie and neighboring counties against Indian depredation, banditos, Comancheros, Mexican renegades and other lawless elements. Company F had twenty members in all that the state of Texas supplied with nothing more than a Winchester rifle and ammunition. 

When Captain Kelland’s company of Texas Rangers was organized in 1875, Co. F disbanded, whereupon Captain Lacey and most of his men transferred. In the new company of forty men, they were issued blue uniforms as well as their munitions and firearms and were subject to being called into service anywhere in the state.

The men were young adventurers craving action. The ‘holy grail’ of a young Ranger in the 1870’s was the sixty-dollar bounty paid by the state for each renegade scalp they obtained. Mostly, Captain Lacey had to restrain his men.

Such was the case when the company was in pursuit of a band of Comanche that rode off on several of the settler’s horses up Squaw Creek. In their haste, the braves rode their horses down, killed them with poisoned arrows, and then continued their escape afoot. Such tactics made the Ranger’s duties very difficult to fulfill. When the Rangers found signs indicating the band had gone up a nearby hill, they wanted to divide into two groups, head them off and draw them into a fight. Captain Lacey felt the scheme was too foolhardy due to their lack of numbers and would not consent to the plan.

Many years, Heinrich realized how fortunate it was when he made the acquaintance of Adolph Fischer. Fischer was kidnapped from his family’s home on the Pedernales during a Comanche raid when he was a boy. He accompanied the braves on the above-mentioned raid as an interpreter as he had many times. Fischer confided that in their flight that day, they had indeed gone up the hill but stopped, watched, and listened to the Rangers discuss their plans of attack and waited for them to proceed up the hill.

Adolph and Heinrich, both marveled at how near they came to battling one another.

And so, we leave a grandfather and grandson mirroring a scene that has occurred around the world throughout time. Heinrich’s years seemed painstakingly situated one over the other, as if each were neatly wrapped and in a sorted package containing its respective miles, trials, tears, and smiles. This was the way he felt most proficient at passing along his reins and offering up a portion of Texas history that he helped create to his grandson and an awaiting generation.

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