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.

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