Fannin County Museum of History

   

One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Ragsdale Led the Posse to the Dyers Hideout

​Bonham Daily Favorite, January 2, 1994


Eleven days after the shootout at the Lee Ranch in Oklahoma, Fannin County Sheriff Tom Ragsdale learned that Sam and Eli Dyer had returned to their home some ten miles southwest of Bonham. W.A. Carter, editor of The Bonham News, stated that Ragsdale had several warrants from returned indictments against the two for cattle rustling andf horse theft.

Today, some 106 years after this event, there is a curious absence of these records in the Fannin County Criminal Minutes. Indices to these records record the listing of indictments for Eli Dyer, but the appropriate record book is missing. In fact there is little official information in any Fannin County records beyond the barest statements. It seems that at some time there was an effort to eliminate all materials which pertain to the case.

In addition to the Fannin County warrants it seems likely that Ragsdale had learned of the Dyers participation in the Oklahoma affair and it is within the realm of possibility that indictments and warrants for their arrest had been issued by the governing authorities of that area. Otherwise, why would Ragsdale have raised such a large posse to affect the arrest of the two men?

Ragsdale led the posse of about thirty men to where his information indicated the Dyers were probably hiding. Not to unduly alarm anyone at the Dyer farm, the Sheriff had the main body of the posse remain out of sight at some distance from the farmhouse. He took only a few men with him including a friend who could be relied on for courage and dependability, Joe Buchanan. Buchanan was also a near neighbor of the Dyer family and whose presence might have been considered to be a calming influence.

When Ragsdale and the men reached the farmhouse they were met by several women. When told of the mission of the group, the women denied having seen either of the brothers, according to a later news account written by W.A. Carter.

Without the cooperaton of the family members, Ragsdale was forced into a dangerous position searching among a number of out buildings on the farm. At one old structure he found that the door was fastened from the inside. His suspicions aroused, he attempted to force open the door.

As the dour partially gave way, Eli Dyer fired at the Sheriff through the opening, the bullet entering Ragsdale's head just above and in front of his ear. As he fell, Eli and Sam both bolted through the door. As they jumped over the fallen lawman, Ragsdale was able to fire one barrel of his pistol into Eli. Eli fired again; this time the bullet struck Ragsdale in the stomach.

By now Buchanan had made his way to the other side of the building and with guns blazing went at the two brothers.  Eli turned and with deadly aim gunned down the deputy.

Both brothers managed to get to the perimeter of the farm and vaulted a fence. By this time the remainder of the posse had charged into the area. Eli surprised one of the riders unseating him from his horse which Eli then quickly mounted and turned to male his escape. Some of the others had by this time regained control of their wits and fired at the fleeing Eli wounding him. As he fell from the horse he lost his weapons and was immediately captured.

In the confusion, Sam, on foot, managed to make his way across a pasture and into a grove of trees unseen by the posse.

The posse returned to the scene of the first shooting where they found Sheriff Ragsdale dead and Buchanan seriously wounded. Buchanan was to die before a physician could reach him.

A messenger was sent hurriedly to Bonham with news of the tragedy. Rapidly, large parties of armed men were seen rushing to the Dyer farm. As more and more men arrived on the scene, search parties were organized and sent out in all directions in search of Sam Dyer. They reasoned that he was probably hiding in the woods since he had fled on foot: and would have been unable to cover any distance.

As daylight faded the search was halted for the night but a large contigent of men ringed the woods in the event Sam tried to escape in the darkness. At first light a thorough search was made of the area but Sam Dyer was nowhere to be found.

It was considered that somehow Sam had managed to make his escape. In fact, Sam had spent more than forty hours perched in the very top of a thickly foliaged tree and when the posse left he climbed down from his hiding place.


A report reached the searchers that Dyer had been spotted crossing the railroad tracks just west of Bonham. As a body the entire group galloped to the site failing to leave anyone at the Dyer farm in the event that Sam should backtrack to the area. When no sign of the fugitive was found in the vicinity of the railroad other likely spots were targeted for search as probably the largest manhunt in the history of Fannin County was launched.

Sam Dyer's movements are unrecorded for the next several days. A few days after the Ragsdale's funeral another posse possibly acting on a tip found Dyer hiding under the floor of an old building in the neighborhood of his home. He was arrested, taken to the Fannin County jail in Bonham and placed in the cell with his brother.

In the meantime the Fannin County Commissioners Court made note of the occurence with one terse sentence in the court records, "It appearing to the Commissioners that Sheriff A.T. Ragsdale has been killed, hereby appoint James W. Evans to the office of Sheriff."

For a time anger fueled all public meetings in the town with talks of lynching heard at almost every gathering. Sheriff Evans, according to Carter, was a calming influence and such talk finally died when it appeared that the judicial system would take care of the case.

The Dyers hired an attorney; his name is unknown. As soon as Eli's wounds were better the two were subjected to a preliminary hearing. One witness was called but the trial was delayed for a few more days because of Eli's weakness.