The Last Romantic Outlaw

If Charles Brogden pilfered a kitchen, he washed the dishes and mopped the floor before he left. And the law just couldn't seem to run him down.

ON OR ABOUT APRIL FOOL’S Day, 1953, a slender young man of some Choctaw blood twisted in his saddle, grinned back at his trackers like a young Charleton Heston, then reined his stolen horse through the snipped barb-wire and disappeared into the Texas twilight. At least, that’s the kind of image some people have of Charles Brogdon today.

Twenty years later, Brogdon is almost gaunt in his slenderness, his cheeks are sunken and creased like those of so many a working cowpoke, and he’s punching milk cows for the Texas Department of Corrections. While he was inside this time, Brogdon got himself stabbed 45 times by another inmate—it took a year for his lungs and liver to heal—and a year ago he rode the bulls and saddle broncs well enough to finish second, at 39, in the overall point-standings of the Prison Rodeo at Huntsville. He’s been transferred now to a minimum security unit in the sweltering flatlands west of Houston, and he’s due out in November. No guns, no dogs to take him to work, no fences, no electric-locking gates. Brogdon fiddles in the saddle shop when he’s not working cattle, and except for his prison whites he looks like any other ranch hand. His warden is a proper but pleasant black man; the warden’s office neighbor is a representative of the Texas Employment Commission. In a few months Brogdon will be just another ex-con facing the intimidating prospect of freedom, trying to forget the wife that divorced him the second time they sent him up.

Except this ex-con’s a little different. There was this stunt he pulled up in the hill country when he was 19 years old. All the old-timers around Kerrville, Medina, and Bandera remember him, and the expatriate San Antonio newcomers hear about him as soon as they arrive. His story has now passed into the second generation, and it gets better all the time:

“Well I heard he did it on a dare.”

“How many Rangers was they in that posse?”

“I heard he shot those bloodhounds right between the eyes.”

“The radio was hot all day, telling where he’d been seen. They’d spot him at Ingram and thirty minutes later way up in Rocksprings. The first thing you know he’d be over at Leaky, all on foot. He could really cover the miles.”

“Hell, I heard he did the same kinda thing ten years later. They say he greased himself down and broke jail over in Rondo, and off he went again.”

“Well I don’t care what you say. He was a nice young fella as far as I could see, and he sure gave those Rangers a fit.”

On and on and on: The story has been passed, dropped, and thrown into so many hill country conversations that by now the deed far transcends the man. The quiet man in the pre-release center outside Sugarland is at once Charles Brogdon, the two-time loser; and the See More Kid, the State of Texas’ last great Romantic outlaw.

Brogdon was born in San Antonio but he grew up in the Valley outside of Mission. His half-Indian mother died when he was five, and his father was away much of the time, peddling livestock pills to feed stores. Brogdon got into juvenile trouble early, landed his first ranch job at the age of 15, and in the spring of 1953 he was working for a German rancher near Fredericksburg when one day he just went off into the woods alone. “I was sorta tired of things,” he says now. “I wanted some solitude.”

But the kid was apparently unwilling to do without some of the finer things in life during his hermitage. After several weeks in the brush he was wanted in connection with 40 residential burglaries, six cut fences, two stolen horses, and one stolen jeep, which he allegedly rolled. You know how cowboys drive. He killed a deer or wild turkey for food occasionally, but he also broke into summer or weekend homes, raided the pantry, washed his dishes, showered, and slept on a mattress for a change. He didn’t take much and he usually left things in order, and the law officers in the area let things slide for a while. But then in late March they decided enough was enough and approached Bob Snow, the best on-foot tracker in that part of the country.

Snow is a widower whose son is foreman of the Y-O, a sprawling converted sheep ranch in Kerr County that now runs exotic game into the sights of hunters who can afford the price of a guaranteed trophy. He is a retired game warden and Tex-Mex translator for the Texas Rangers, and he has a reputation as one of the windier raconteurs in the state. “If I ever take a hand in writing another book I’m going to run the whole show,” he told us. “I did most of the work on one a few years ago and all I got out of it was some overlasting gratitude in the first chapter.”

However, Snow couldn’t tell us much about the See More Kid episode. “I refused to participate,” he said. “My wife’s health was getting bad, and I didn’t feel like I ought to leave her. And I didn’t want to kill a white man.”

When the best on-foot tracker in the country turns you down, there’s not much you can do but call in the Texas Rangers. L. H. Purvis draws a state pension now and works as a special investigator for the Kerr County Sheriff’s Department, but he was then the Ranger in town. We approached Purvis for an interview but he said, “That wouldn’t make a very interesting story.”

Nonetheless, Purvis is the man who organized a posse of around a hundred men, horses, dogs, and Piper Cub pilots. For a week Brogdon led them on a wild, circular chase through the hills, and when he got tired he simply broke into another house, fixed himself something to eat, and lay back for a while. After a week of

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