Jesse James, Butch Cassidy … interesting outlaws of the 1800s with a place in history. Some, just as noteworthy, never made it past newsprint. Reuben “Rube” Boyce is a colorful Texas outlaw who probably deserves remembering for his criminal career.
Reuben “Rube” Hornsby Boyce was part of the Pegleg* stage robber gang. In 1879-1880 he was a guest of the Travis County. When his wife tried to spend the night with Reuben in jail, she smuggled in a gun, leaving a jailer to languish in a cell.
Reuben Boyce allegedly ran the Pegleg stage robber gang, robbing stagecoaches near the San Saba river banks. By 1880 he sported two gun belt notches for two murders, one of his victims being a brother-in-law. The gang’s lucky rabbit foot must have hopped out of luck because, in November 1879, Boyce sported handcuffs in Kimble county after robbing a U.S. mail stagecoach. Now Boyce was sitting in the Travis County Jail in Austin as he could not pay an $8,000 bond. While awaiting his preliminary trial, Boyce planned a jailbreak with the aid of his wife. On Saturday, January 3, 1880, Mrs. Boyce came to Austin to visit her husband, accompanied by her brother-in-law. That evening she asked a jailer named Nichols if she might spend the night with Reuben. Nichols declined her request, telling her to return the next day and she could visit for the better part of the day; this was a jail, not a motel.
Mrs. Boyce showed up at 10 a.m. with a basket of clean clothes and “must haves” for jail. Nichols threw the heavy door’s bolt and admitted the visitor into the prison. She visited until about 2:30 p.m. when she notified Nichols. Reuben was standing behind her at the door, holding the basket; he was ready to leave as well, but no one knew that yet.
|Travis County Jail, Austin, TX. circa 1800s|
Jailer Nichols keyed open the door to allow Mrs. Boyce’s exit. He also allowed her husband to exit, for when he turned, Reuben was holding a six-shooter and pointing it at the jailer, demanding Nichols step back into the jail while Reuben stepped out. Staring down the business end of the gun, Nichols did as requested while handing over the keys.
Outside stood Reuben Boyce’s horse, saddled and bridled. It did not take long for Boyce to be a dusty memory.
Jail Officers and Texas Rangers pursued Boyce, but it was too late, and Reuben’s horse was too fast.
In mid-January, an unnamed reporter in the Austin Weekly Statesman responded to a comment on the “carelessness” of “the Travis county jailer” made by an anonymous writer for the Express. The Statesman reporter noted the jail guards “ever vigilant,” and to deny visitation to inmates would be “cruelty” to both visitors and inmates. To suspect every person coming into a prison of wrongdoing would “lead to disgraceful surveillance or to brutality.”
Boyce worked his way to Louisiana, back through Texas, and then to New Mexico, where he went to work in a mine. It was here where he shot and killed a man. A friend of the murdered man turned Boyce in by contacting U.S. Deputy Marshals. Thus, Boyce was arrested on June 10 by the marshals, and Austin sheriff’s deputies were notified. There was no jail in Socorro, so an officer had to guard Boyce. On July 14, as a Texas representative arrived in Socorro to take Boyce, the guard nodded off, and Boyce walked off, missing a trip to Texas.
Days later, Indians raided Socorro. Officers chased the marauders into Bear Mountains, where they accidently discovered “Rube” Boyce hiding out. Once again, Boyce donned handcuffs. Boyce was 28 years old at the time. Now it was back to Austin.
Settled back in the Texas capitol’s jail, “Rube” Boyce was interviewed by a reporter for the Austin-Weekly Statesman on December 21, 1881. Boyce explained the murder he committed in Llano county was in self-defense when a “half-breed Indian named Johnson” stole horses, including Boyce’s mount. When Boyce attempted to reclaim the horses, Johnson pulled a pistol, and Boyce had to shoot him. Boyce then explained he committed the second murder in 1877 in Kimble county, during a dispute with his brother-in-law R.F. Anderson “over a yoke of cattle.” Again, he claimed self-defense. Boyce was also innocent of the Pegleg stage robbery as he was nowhere near the crime scene, and those who accused him were scallywags. When asked why he escaped from the Travis county jail if he was so confident in his innocence, Boyce reportedly replied he wished to “breath the pure air, and enjoy God’s glorious sunshine, undimmed by the foul dismal shadow of a prison’s bars.” He then gave the reporter money to return with tobacco and matches.
During “Rube” Boyce’s 1882 trial, the judge discovered U.S. Marshals had tampered with two jurors. Deputy Marshals McFarland and Burleson were observed walking with two jurors and speaking with jurors privately. A marshal denied a juror tobacco as “it was the right thing to starve him into a verdict.” Jurors were allowed whisky, and strangers could walk in and out of the jury room. Juror’s wives would intervene during breaks, asking their husbands to just vote guilty and come home. The judge granted a new trial. Eventually, Reuben “Rube” Hornsby would walk.
Even after this chance to do right, Boyce could not stay out of jail. On April 20, 1882, a short paragraph in the Brenham Weekly Banner noted he had been arrested for cattle rustling.
And finally, a one-sentence notation in a November 30, 1890, Texas newspaper: “the notorious Rube Boyce killed in Sutton county.” Not much published of the outlaw’s death except a bullet found him in Sonora, Sutton County, Texas, and always the articles referred to his Austin jailbreak.
* Sometimes written as Peg Leg
Escaped from jail. (1880, Jan. 06). Austin-American Statesman. Austin, Texas.
Escaping Prisoners and the officers. (1880, Jan. 15). Austin-Weekly Statesman. Austin, Texas.
Fatally Shot. (1890, December 1). Memphis Daily Commercial, Memphis, Tennessee.
Legends of America Old West Outlaws. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/outlaw-list-b/2/
Rube Boyce Interviewed. (1881, Dec. 22). Austin-Weekly Statesman. Austin, Texas.
Rube Boyce Fatally Shot. (1890, December 6). The Purcell Register. Purcell, Oklahoma.
The Rube Boyce Case. (1882, March 2). Austin-Weekly Statesman. Austin, Texas.
Throw up your hands. (1879, April 17). Wayne County Herald. Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
State News Section (1882, April 20). Brenham Weekly Banner. Brenham, Texas.
Summary of the news. (1890, November 30). The Galveston Daily News. Galveston, Texas.
Photo: C00610, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library